Bob Margolin, |
In North Carolina
(Steady Rollin', 2006)
Guitarist Bob Margolin used to bill himself as "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin, after the Robert Johnson song. For Margolin "Steady Rollin'" is now just the name of his own CD label.
On In North Carolina (where he resides these days) he handles all instruments and performs in the fashion of a man playing for himself. Of course, this man has played blues all of his life -- not just that, as a member of Muddy Waters's band for seven years (1973-1980), he learned from the master himself -- so the results are for anybody who cares to listen in on a pro in moments that only appear to be private ones.
If you haven't heard him before -- and if you haven't, I'd encourage you to stretch your listening to encompass at least a few of the many worthwhile albums he's cut under his own name or as a sideman on others' -- be advised that Margolin's music is firmly based in post-war blues. He is no annoying, effectively rootless blues-rock wanker. His natural compatriots are the Waters-generation African-American bluesmen who in the 1950s and '60s electrified and expanded the Deep South's downhome sounds.
Of the album's 14 musical cuts (the 15th and final is a spoken recitation) roughly half are obscurities from the blues' vast catalogue, from the likes of Muddy, Tampa Red and T-Bone Walker. Margolis interestingly arranges the Bob Dylan/Richard Manuel "Tears of Rage" -- not a blues, and best known from the Band's classic version on Music from Big Pink -- as a starkly primitive acoustic/electric-slide guitar exercise. Margolin's voice is an eccentric one, perhaps not for everybody, but this is surely his most moving use of it. In a note he remarks that the song "strikes me as a lament of heartbroken patriotism,"which rather took me aback, inasmuch as I'd always assumed that only I heard it that way. Though written during the Vietnam era, it serves to remind one that, sadly, we're seeing -- to quote a phrase John Fogerty stole from Yogi Berra for the title of his ironic anti-Iraq-war reflection -- "Deja vu (All Over Again)."
The other cuts are Margolin originals, mostly written in a traditional style, mostly with the sorts of nakedly confessional lyrics one associates with deep-blues artists. His unsparing, gut-bucket guitar accompaniments underscore the songs' no-prisoners sensibility. The opposite of party music, In North Carolina offers up the blues at its most elemental and truthful, the kind that comes rolling down when that evening sun goes down.
by Jerome Clark
Judging by the lot number, this is obviously the first CD by veteran blues artist Bob Margolin on his own label, Steady Rollin' Records. Margolin's pedigree is well renowned in the blues world because he cut his teeth as a sideman with the legendary Muddy Waters and went on to pump out a handful of his own very successful records on the Alligator label. Expectations for this CD are understandably high, seeing as it is the first on his own label, with Margolin playing all of the instruments and as far as I can see handling all the production.
It is immaculately packaged. Unfortunately, the music was not conceived in the same manner. It is an eclectic mix that tries to cover too wide a variety of Piedmont and Chicago styles. The CD is too long, has little continuity and would have been better had he let artistic content and mastering be handled by unbiased ears. Perhaps he could have split this into two projects; one acoustic, one electric, and focused on perfecting two short projects rather than have one big one with obvious flaws.
In North Carolina does have it's high points. The opening cut, "Tell Me Why," is great uptempo jump blues. But its energy is destroyed by the following track, "In North Carolina," which is a mambo disguised as a funeral dirge.
"Natural Blues" is an excellent swing tune with a great bass groove and solid vocals. The two instrumentals, "Floyd's' Guitar Blues" and "Colleen," are also worth the price of an iTunes download. The vocals on "Just Before Dawn," "Bring Me Your Blues" and "Hard Feelings" sound as though Margolin is trying to mimic a minstrel black voice. It sounds so bad it's criminal. He finishes off with a spoken-word story piece that is similar to some of the columns I have seen him write. I believe that it actually came across well enough to have been fodder for spoken-word Grammy awards nominations.
Too bad the candy is hidden in a pile of rocks.
by Carole McDonnell