Fiona Boyes &
the Fortunetellers,
Lucky 13
(Yellow Dog, 2006)

If "Australian blues singer" doesn't sound like a promising idea to you, you haven't heard Fiona Boyes, and you haven't heard of the Memphis-based Yellow Dog label, which doesn't sign anybody who can't deliver the goods. With Boyes & the Fortunetellers behind the wheel, the delivery truck is as packed as it can get.

Boyes is a terrific guitar player (electric and acoustic) and a tough, sexy, witty vocalist. The Fortunetellers here are not the ones she left in her native country, but an American equivalent, boasting Muddy Waters-band alumnus and guitarist "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin, with appearances by blues-piano pounder Marcia Ball, Kaz Kazanoff's Texas Horns and more. They will satisfy all of your blues needs.

Let us make one thing clear: this is nothing like another boring blues-rock album. This is gritty stuff, steeped in good part (even when fully electrified) in pre-war sounds of country blues and jug bands, with periodic post-war Chicago moods and rhythms, and even (in "Big Bigger Biggest") some welcome jazz touches. Boyes ventures winningly into other territory with Jerry Miller and Jack Smith's hoppin' "Rockabilly on the Radio."

Boyes, who has written all but two of the 13 cuts, proves herself a formidable in-the-tradition composer who may bring to mind what Memphis Minnie might have sounded like in the early 21st century. It must be stressed that Boyes has so fully soaked in her influences that she is very much her own artist and ultimately sounds only like herself. Still, Minnie would have loved the sassy, salacious "Pigmeat Lover."

Lucky 13, recorded in Austin, is Boyes' first American album. Over the course of a decade and a half, she had already released eight in Australia. At this stage, any rough edges that remain are the ones that are supposed to be there. By any standard, this is one of the most entertaining and inspiring new blues recordings of the year.

by Jerome Clark
4 November 2006

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