Album review: SWAMP TRAIN – Premium Selection

 

 

 

 

Swamp Train [Release date 30.03.13 ]

Swamp Train take their name from their own brand of down-home rhythms. Armed with cigar box guitars, washboard and harps they impressively carve out their own take on the blues. The band calls it “Juke Joint Cigar Box Guitar Blues” and they are on a mission: ‘to grasp the spirit; loud, energetic, raise hell and get up and dance!’

‘Premium Selection’ follows a well trodden path, born of the revelatory powers of the blues. It works well because of a collective commitment and a leap into the blues void that finds them landing on their feet, cigar boxes in place and ready to boogie.

The Swiss quartet strip things down on ‘Little Red Rooster’, with Alan Pache (aka Cut Finger), providing an effective guitar led counterpoint to Blaze’s conversational style wailing harp. He also adds a yearning slide figure on ‘King Bee’ to match Blaze’s throaty growl on a subtle exercise in restraint. The music hits home in a minimalist Seasick Steve kind of way, but without the hype and with as much passion that any Swiss band playing the blues is ever likely to muster.

The opening ‘Swamp Train Blues’ sounds like early career George Thorogood – all growled vocals and slide – while the old Mississippi Sheiks song ‘Sitting On Top of the World’ is a great choice, complete with an eerie whistle and dirt-in-the-tracks slide that perfectly fits the band’s down-home style. That said, they up the tempo on the ‘Hooray Hooray’ and work up a thunderous washboard rhythm on the familiar ‘Rollin And Tumblin’.

Best of all is the slide-led ‘The Oak Song’ which might just be about Blaze’s wood chopping exploits in the forest to make his cigar box guitar. Whether true or imagined, it’s enough to percolate the legend.

‘Boom Boom Out Go The Lights’ is closer to the slide-led Thorogood approach than the Pat Travers rocker, as Swamp Train curiously choose to ignore the harp driven Little Walter version. Either way, it still works in its own low-down way. They finish with the traditional ‘Po’ Boy Blues’, using just harp and spoons, but it’s perfect nonetheless.

‘Swamp Train’ are an interesting outfit with an idiosyncratic home grown approach, right down to their instrumentation and cool arrangements.  ‘Premium Selection’ may be slightly weighed down by an obvious choice of material, but the band generates enough spark and passion to reinvigorate Delta blues to their own ends.

***1/2

Review by Pete Feenstra


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