Bob Brozman,
Post-Industrial Blues
(Ruf, 2007)

Guitarist Bob Brozman records prolifically, often in cross-cultural experiments with Hawaiian and Third World string masters, but he's one of those artists I hear about more often than I actually hear. Post-Industrial Blues, I read, is a relatively rare release under his name only. Most of the songs are credited to him. The template is country blues, though that doesn't constrain much of the movement, which prowls the world for odd rhythms, beats, tunings and notes. If rooted in a broad sense, the sensibility is an unmistakably 21st-century one, with Brozman contributing topical songs whose targets are as often as not the current regime occupying Washington.

A sense of doom permeates much of the record, which gives the impression -- courtesy of Brozman's spooky vocals and haunted chords -- of drifting out of a cemetery at midnight. The echoes of old Mississippi masters such as Skip James and Tommy Johnson are unmistakable and undisguised, but these men also sounded as if, albeit technically corporeal, they were already ghosts. "Airport Blues," for example, parodies an old-time blues associated with Johnson, but because Brozman has larger themes in mind, he transforms it into an anguished commentary on the complications of boarding an airliner in the post-9/11 age. If you weren't listening closely, you might think you were hearing "Canned Heat Blues." Or you might think of Brozman as Ry Cooder might sound if he were more than a casual, occasional practitioner of deep blues. Or maybe the late John Hartford if he had followed Delta bluesmen instead of Midwestern fiddlers.

Brozman, who plays a variety of resonator guitars and employs bottleneck techniques, does lighten up periodically, turning to the 1920s/'30s hokum novelty-pop he played three decades ago with the Cheap Suit Serenaders. There's "Shafafa," a good-natured piece expressing the singer's longing for food dishes that don't exist outside his imagination. There is also at least one jaw-dropping curiosity, a bizarre, futurist-jug-band interpretation of the Doors' "People are Strange." Here Brozman piles on more than a dozen instruments, one of them identified as a "broken toy piano," while Jim Norris drums and Stan Poplin does weird stuff with a stand-up bass. Haley Sage provides what's identified as "high female vocal." On the other hand, Brozman's reading of the traditional "Green River Blues" -- alone of anything here -- is surprisingly straightforward and thoroughly enjoyable.

Post-Industrial Blues may not appeal to more narrow-minded listeners who don't want their folk music to stray too far from source models, but the title ought to give anyone who worries about such things fair warning. If not everything on this disc appeals to me in equal measure, that's a matter of personal taste that makes no claim to higher universal insight. A superior musician with broad experience and freewheeling imagination, Brozman may be pointing us toward the sound of roots-revival music in the years to come. Meantime, this is an always interesting, sometimes inspiring recording.

review by
Jerome Clark

13 September 2008

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