The music world is one of strange dense terrains, arranged as an array of alternating patchy growths and dense impenetrable jungles that overlap, their thick canopies blocking out any sunlight to guide you. Let's say you dare to enter the fables thickets of Blues. On the outskirts, things look still relatively familiar. The foliage and animals roaming and skirting about resemble the critters you are used to. You recognize echoes of their cries and growls in, say, your own dog at home. Venture further to the deltas and deep country regions extolled by the experts as being "where the real good shit is" you often find yourself wedged in a curious yet boring landscape, where there is indeed a distinctive flavor to it, but not one that tastes good to you, and you abandon your exploits for the comfortable home turf from which you came, leaving you to believe that adventure is best left for the wild souls who will recount it for you later, should your interest re-emerge. Such is the common experience exploring the Blues.
I went on my own Authenticity Blues Safari a couple years back, led by guides like Robert Palmer (not the "Addicted to Love" guy. At least, I don't think so.) and the good people at Interlibrary Loan. I spent enough time in the bush where having all 9 scratchy-ass volumes of the Charley Patton 78's box set lined up on my MP3 player was joy and not, as would be the common perception, torture. The problem with such indulgences is that it alters you, making you somewhat unfit for the society and time in which you actually live. You treat any passing interest in your new addiction as a soapbox, with which you make your unsuspecting congregation scatter to the exits. Its cool for a while, but soon even you tire of your own outre-ness.
It was at this point that I realized that the "blues" artists I really enjoyed the most were the ones that rested atop all this research and recontextualized it into their own thing, rather than making it history. I dismissed all this stuff at the time (not unlike the Steve Buschemi character in "Ghost World" when facing the enthusiastic response of Blueshammer in the bar) but now, I find that music to be more authentic than my own cultural tourism. So here years later, wanders in Guy Blakeslee, under the appropriate nom-de-plume Entrance, carrying the winds of the Delta Blues in his strange psychedelic carpetbag.
Entrance has taken the archetype of the solo blues singer as collected on many an Arhoolie compilation and refracted the Blues through the prism on indie neo folk music ala Cat Power and Will Oldham, two of his ardent supporters and tour mates, exploding these golden oldies into swirling epic mantas, his lone guitar leaving tracers as they weave around these seemingly simple tunes. On top of this, he intones the "I Got a Woman... lyric patterns common to the form with his starchild warble, sounding all the world like T. Rex's Marc Bolan dropping the glam curtain and channelling the earliest possible stages of rock-n-roll into a unseen microphone.
"Train is Leaving" sets the tone of Wandering Stranger, where he emotes the classic feel of the blues hollers over his tube-distorted guitar and pulse of tambourine, gathering wiggy momentum throughout its 5 minute tenure. "Rex's Blues" a classic by Texas neo-before-his-time bluesman Townes Van Zandt, is given a delicate acoustic treatment with a fiddle paddling this raft downstream, later given a beautiful flickering effect by the piano that makes it entrance toward the end. The title track, written by the artist but given credence to its pantheon of influences in the liner notes, is a 7 minute journey of sound, that once you submit to its rhythm, sucks you in.
One of many ways this album bucks against the Blues Orthodoxy is in the length of its songs, where the tradition of 3-minute ramble is king, be it an artificial bracket imposed by recording technology of the day. The social reality of the songs is that they were long, full of vamps and nuances and improvisations (See Bukka White's Sky Songs to get the feel for how long a blues song can go and what it can do in that time.) "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor" sounds like the longest Big Star loner-venture ever, awash in smoke haze and reverb, while "Lonesome Road", another Townes Van Zandt number, is epic in proportions, its trio of guitar, fiddle and drums drilling to the center of the earth in its 11 minutes. "Darling" will similarly convince you to steer clear of Baltimore forever with its hypnotic chant.
Wandering Stranger closes with the demon wail that is "Please Be Careful in New Orleans" and the multi layered distorted ramble of "Happy Trails," and apt sentiment for caboose on this mystery train. Will this album anger staunch blues academics, making them spit as if their idealistic chitlins were tainted by its very existence? Sure. Is it too out there and rootsy to appeal to the average Franz Ferdinand loving music hobbyist? You bet. But if you are willing to step off the beaten path to a much more beaten one tread lightly but stridently by this artist, it will take you someplace old and new at once.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com