Ian Siegal,
The Picnic Sessions
(independent, 2015)

In his liner notes to this album, British bluesman Ian Siegal says he went to the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic Festival in 2013 to reconnect with old friends. His buddies were free the next day, so they gathered in a circle around some old ribbon microphones and played into an old tape machine. It was a case of let's see what happens. He emphasizes there was no modern technology, no planning -- he calls it old school.

You might call it chaotic.

It appears there was no final mix or editing either. Banjos overcome vocals, background singers can't be heard clearly, the instruments seem to fight for attention -- it's all, by design, rough, as primitive as a recently rediscovered 78 RPM single from the 1920s.

It's also, and this might seem counterintuitive, pretty wonderful. For one thing, Siegal has an impressive group of friends gathered here: Luther and Cody Dickinson and Alvin Youngblood Hart make up the band and, since nothing's on the line here and they're playing for their own pleasure, they have rarely sounded looser or happier. On this record, you have a fine group of musicians simply having fun and, if you can get with it, you'll have fun, too.

Some people won't. Hit by an unmixed album, where some instruments are too loud, others not loud enough, where you feel every song could be improved with a little bit of rehearsal and planning, where the singing is ragged and the harmonies invented on the spot, some listeners are going to recoil.

I'd recommend a nonjudgmental hearing, an immersion into Siegal's vision. It pays off.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

4 July 2015

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