Forrest McDonald,
What's It Gonna Take?
(World Talent, 2000)

This ... THIS is Blues. Not just blues, but capital-B, which stands for Badass, Blues. This is the kind of thing that made me pick up an instrument, passionate and raw and powerful, the kind of thing that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. Ever.

I've got a modest but telling collection of blues, running from Muddy Waters to Kenny Wayne Shepard to Eric Clapton to B.B. King to Johnny Lang to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and this CD has everything I've ever loved about blues. Frighteningly good guitar work; Forrest McDonald deserves to be every bit the household name that every one of those I mentioned above already is. Raymond Victor's lead vocals are harsh and beautifully ugly in that same smoking-since-he-was-3, drinking-since-he-was-4 way as Tom Waits at his gravelly, distinctive best. Every other musician I hear (including Roy Gaines and James Montgomery) can be described as, at the very least, damn good at what they're doing; I don't hear a single note that seems out of place anywhere on the CD.

The songs themselves are classic blues: tales of lost love, lost job, booze and general ponderings on the average lousiness of life. They do that which blues is supposed to do: that is, remind you that no matter how bad you have it, there's someone who's been there, too, and they've probably got it worse than you do.

What's it Gonna Take has earned a long-term place in my car's CD player's rotation, nestled in its jewelbox next to Johnny Cash, and sitting there, it reminds me that no matter how much the Man in Black or Hank Williams knew how bad life could get, the bluesmen were already telling everyone about it. And they're still doing that today, and, for my money, doing it better than their contemporaries in the modern country scene.

[ by Sean Simpson ]

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