Swamp Cabbage,
(Zoho, 2008)

Swamp Cabbage is a blues trio out of Jacksonville, Florida, consisting of Walter Parks on fingerpicked electric guitar and vocals, Jagoda on drums and Mark Lindsay on bass. All are pretty much veteran musicians -- Parks' day job is accompanying Ritchie Havens -- and all are fine players.

Although this is being written in early spring, I can safely say Squeal is one of the best contemporary blues albums of the year. It is simply brilliant.

The CD opens with "Jesus Tone," in which Parks makes his guitar growl with an animal-like tone and sings in a passionate husky growl of a voice that suits his tone and mood perfectly. The speaker in the song describes the way he can't play the guitar without his Jesus tone, saying:

"The preacher got his pulpit and his microphone
I just need my guitar and my Jesus tone."

As Parks writes in the liner notes, the singer won't take credit for his own accomplishments; instead "the Lord gets the blame in fine evangelical fashion." That statement pretty much sums up the theme of Squeal: it's an album about the lost people who rely on faith to see them through. Swamp Cabbage writes about individuals, and the characters populating the songs and stories they tell are at one and the same time universal and specific to the American South.

The stories are told in the character's own voice, and the accompaniments sometimes support the lyrics and sometimes contradict them -- the saddest lyrics have the happiest tunes -- which creates a dynamic tension in the playing.

And these guys can play. Parks' guitar is out front and his is the tastiest, rockingest, bluesiest playing I've heard in a long time. His compatriots on bass and drums aren't slouches either. They're right there with him, creating a unified band sound instead of a guitar trio sound.

The fact of the matter is, Squeal is the real thing.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

26 July 2008

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