Sometimes you just have to get the basics right and work out from there. And when it comes to blues music, the vocal is where it all begins. Lyrics shot through with honesty and integrity and delivered with total passion are the beating heart of the genre, always have been, always will be. You can forget all the electric-blues scenes that cropped up in the seventies and which seem not to have lost any of their popularity to this day, that’s just rock music hitching a ride on the blues bandwagon.
With this in mind, this Danish project seeks to reawaken and revitalise a modern interest in blues, to try to underline the fundamentals that make the genre what it is and bring it to a new generation. A generation’s only image of the genre is either the sound of old scratchy solo recordings or leviathan rockers overplaying the sonic hand. As commercial music has become more cold and calculated, more financially driven and throwaway, perhaps blues is the place to look for a new emotional music experience.
Catawampus is an album that certainly tips its hat, probably a battered fedora worn at a jaunty angle, at the blues musicians of the ’50s and earlier. However, it is no mere pastiche and brings itself up to date with just the lightest dusting of other genres such as soul, gospel as you might expect, and less predicted production approach that lends more to the likes of hip-hop than traditional recording methods. But it all comes down to the music being used to carry that all-important vocal rather than someone just writing blues songs with lyrics tacked on as an afterthought. And that is where the album comes into its own.
And as is the way with many blues albums, this is an album of standards, but this is where the twist comes. It is a combination of new production and reinterpreted playing applied to existing songs, often unused takes and shelved recordings that haven’t seen the light of day, and thus you end up with something both fresh and authentic, archival music being brought bang up to date. There are iconic songs such as Mud Morganfield’s take on his father’s Mannish Boy, Sahra De Silva’s adds some sultry jazz-rock vocals to Rollin’ & Tumblin’, and perhaps the most wonderfully weird offering is the last one, essentially James Harman handing out Cornbread cooking tips to an ancient blues-bar piano score.
So this is an album of more recent standards being revisited, reworked, re-celebrated for all the right reasons. I guess more than anything; it proves that a good song is a good song no matter what you do with it. Forget the revolution; Catawampus is all about the evolution.