W.C. Spencer,
Bluescat
(Catscan, 1996)

I can't presume to speak for everyone, but I know that I've got a small collection of CDs and tapes that I don't own so much for the quality or appeal of the music, but because there's something that's just odd or unique about them. I've got a tape by a band called Cirith Ungol; I have no idea if the band still exists, and I barely remember what the music sounded like (it was mediocre death metal). But the band's name is a semi-obscure reference to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (one of those names that you'd probably have to have read the work a couple of times to be able to place easily), and the cover art is the painting Michael Whelan did for a Michael Moorcock novel of Elric, Sailor on the Seas of Fate; the whole album reeks of references to dark fantasy. Another example is a tape by a band called Dark Myth; I don't think I ever made it through a complete listen of that tape, but I have a somewhat interesting story about how I came across it. There's more, but I'll stop there.

On first glance, Bluescat seemed headed for that pile. A couple of these CDs that I got with this batch came with a stack of related materials, most of which I either skimmed or avoided entirely (they were usually reviews from elsewhere, which I did not want to be influenced by). But Bluescat just came with a bit of paper that talked about how W.C. Spencer is the only man in his band, and, like the liner notes, talked about how he built his own rig that allows him to play every part in his songs -- at the same time.

This alone would have grabbed my attention, and, providing it wasn't prohibitively expensive, I would have picked it up out of curiousity. I also would likely have expected to see it wind up in the oddities pile, never to be pulled out except as conversation pieces.

I would have been dead wrong.

The problem with oddball music is that it's rarely catchy and listenable on a regular basis. I remember putting on alternative music when I was a DJ in college, and "alternative" actually meant alternative, when it referred to Robyn Hitchcock and Joy Division and Pavement, and not Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Soundgarden. Most of the alternative music I found in the stacks of vinyl at that little Pennsylvanian private college was just shy of unlistenable, just like my little collection of show-and-tell pieces. But W.C. Spencer has both novelty -- you listen to this CD, knowing it's just one guy, and you'll have the hardest time believing how this music was made -- and he's actually a damn good blues musician.

While Bluescat isn't the best blues disc I've heard in my life -- hell, I'll say it wasn't even the best I heard in 2000 -- it's solid, honest, and it rocks. It's got everything you expect from an at least halfway decent blues album, and it's got conversation potential as well. Recommendation? It's a buy, since you won't be paying overinflated retail store prices for this one. They'd never carry something this ballsy.

[ by Sean Simpson ]



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