Paul Rishell & Annie Raines,
Goin' Home
(Tone-Cool/Artemis, 2004)

These two are so good that any release from them serves to remind us humans that while, true, life tends to suck, it does, on the other hand, have its moments. Goin' Home -- OK, so you might think the title is only blandly generic, but you would be wrong -- is Paul Rishell and Annie Raines in stratospheric form, which means that some of the most satisfying blues around these days are wafting down on your head and into your being, courtesy of a partnership the theologically inclined may suspect to have been conceived in heaven -- or, short of that, in some profoundly desirable terrestrial state accessible only by proximity to their voices and instruments.

I like everything they've recorded so far (this is their third as a duo), but this one somehow, however improbably, manages to surpass the previous two.

What strikes one about their approach is that while it's all based in blues (about which they know as much as any two humans' brains can contain without exploding), Rishell and Raines remind us that "blues" is not a single thing but multiple things: a variety of sounds and approaches, starting with a bewildering assortment of elemental Southern African-American folk wails, laments, jokes, accusations and threats, moving into big-city but country-based jug bands to the downhome uptown post-war roars of the Muddy Waters/Howlin' Wolf post-war generation to the bluesy jumps and jitters to the rock 'n' rolled and rhythm 'n' blued and smoothly souled.

Remarkably, these are all blues languages in whose accents Rishell and Raines sing, play and perform, albeit in varying degrees of allusion and echo. Always in harmony, virtual and literal, that seems so perfect as to feel almost, for want of a better word, preordained, the two speak fluently in those tongues. Even so, the music they borrow, reinvent and coax out of American memory comes, first and last, from and to a single place.

No matter where their muse takes them, ultimately Rishell and Raines -- he with acoustic and electric guitars, she with (mostly) harmonica, sometimes backed by a precision-tooled, steady-rockin' band -- are about pushing the country blues of decades ago into the present century without betraying either the artists' or the music's integrity in the slightest. They are who they are -- white, middle-class New Englanders -- and the music is both eternally what it was and exactly what they have made of it. There is no audible distinction. The fit amounts at once to perfection in art and miracle of nature. Wherever they roam, they are always goin' home.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 2 July 2005

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