W.C. Spencer,
Over Time
(Bluescat, 1998)

In Over Time, W.C. Spencer covers a wide range of blues styles, from the classic to the modern, in an excellent album that will appeal equally to blues fans and novices. Over half of the fourteen songs are originals, and the covers include familiar tunes like "Got My Mojo Workin'" and the classic "Atlanta Blues" from 1915.

Spencer not only sings but plays almost all of the instruments on this album -- apparently all at the same time, at least in concert, including guitar, foot bass, harmonica and drums. Other instruments on the album are Marty Canelli's organ and Mookie Seigel's keyboards. The one-man-band aspect sounds like a gimmick, though, and while it would fascinating to see, the point of an album is the sound. Over Time is not a gimmick CD. It's a solid selection of real blues, and Spencer does not compromise the sound to improve the playability. His harmonica playing, in particular, is some of the best I've heard; he knows just when to elaborate and when to hold back for effect.

"Atlanta Blues" is an interesting piece for Celtic music fans, incorporating as it does much of the melody of "Amazing Grace" but in a firmly bluesy style. "Born Under a Bad Sign," with its classic line "If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all" is a great song, and Spencer's version of it is solid, although it's a bit understated for the lyrics. "Got My Mojo Workin'" is a favorite of mine, and Spencer's take on it is excellent with a great walking bass line making it rock. "Flying Crow Blues" takes us back to really classic blues, its guitar and voice both with a old-time sound; its position on the album, between two more updated pieces, really sets it off. "Sugar Momma" and "Goodboy Blues" are more old-time blues, with "Sugar Momma" recorded in a live performance.

"Talk to Me" combines blues conventions with a modern plea to a lover to talk about what's going wrong rather than just walking away. I love the juxtaposition, as well as the sentiment! "Some of the Things" has a wistful tone, listing all the luxuries a man would like to heap on the woman he loves (although his $700 budget precludes most of them, and his promise not to look at another woman "but even if I do" does make one wonder about his sincerity). "I'm Your Monkey" is an interesting twist on the love/addiction theme, this time taking the perspective of the monkey on someone else's back.

The instrumental pieces are equally good. "My Old Home" features intricate harmonica and guitar in a sound that combines blues with a bit of bluegrass. "The Country Minstrel" also has some bluegrass in the mix, for those who are reasonably familiar with both genres. "The Jump" simply rocks! The piano and walking bass remind me of rock's origins in blues. "Killer Filler" is dense instrumentally, with a jazzy sound, and "Groundhog Stew" has a quiet ragtime feel.

I wish the liner notes had been more extensive, although a lot of information is packed into a very small space. The uncredited designer of the package did an excellent job, including far more information than one would have thought possible in a small space, and making it look great -- in fact, this is one of the most effective uses of two-color design I've seen.

One of my favorite parts of reviewing is increasing my appreciation of the rich tapestry of interrelationships between styles of music, like this album does. Spencer has done a wonderful job of pacing the album, using nice contrasts between styles to advantage.

I heartily recommend this album to new and old blues fans!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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