Cleopatra [Release date 25.08.14]
It’s a measure of the contemporary music scene’s fascination with introspection that three quarters of ‘A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival’ is given a stripped down feel. The result is an album that isn’t so much ‘A Blues Tribute To Creedence’, as a back to the roots appreciation of arguably the greatest swamp rock band of them all.
The important thing is the dozen guest artists do bring something fresh and original to familiar songs. John Fogerty’s wide musical horizon incorporated rock, blues, alt. country, southern rock, and swamp rock. Most of those styles are represented here, with the exception of rock & roll, on a project that surely could have been stretched to 20 tracks.
There’s no one rocking out on ‘Travellin’ Band’, ‘Sweet Hitch-Hiker’, or revelling in the harmonies of ‘Hey Tonight’, though Leroux do add sparkling harmonies on ‘Looking Out My Back Door’. There’s also the glaring omission of the country rock classic ‘Lodi’ and a missed opportunity to re-arrange ‘Long As I Can See The Light’. Finally there surely should have been room on a blues album for a version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ‘I Put A Spell On You’, which Creedence took into the lower reaches of the charts.
That said, there’s fresh take on 9 of the tracks and even if die-hard Creedence fans might argue that the originals don’t need changing, they should warm to the excellent cover of ‘Fortunate Son’ by Mike Zito and Sonny Landreth, with bv’s from Samantha Fish. Sonny’s expansive slide lines are the perfect foil for Zito’s brusque vocals on a sparkling opening.
South Memphis String Band similarly rely on an original arrangement for their cool reading of ‘Up Around The Bend’. Kirk Fletcher contributes a ringing tone and crucial guitar line to offset a limited vocal on ‘Green River’, while in sharp contrast, Trampled Under Foot vocalist Danielle Schnebelen leaves her mark on the laid back groove of ‘Born In The Bayou’ with some bristling phrasing.
Ultimately this compilation is a triumph of quality over shortfall. The Mynabirds lean into a Bo Diddley beat on their mesmerising version of ‘Bad Moon Rising’, while Blitzen Trapper strip down ‘Proud Mary’ to a minimalist but adventurous electronic arrangement with faux horns, an unexpected banjo line and an up in the mix vocal that draws you in.
Spirit Family Reunion add even more percussion, banjo, accordion and fine harmonies on a rootsy ‘Down On The Corner’ to evoke Willy & The Poorboys mentioned in the song’s lyrics. There’s also neat sequencing, with Dead Man Winter’s emotive version of ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ being well placed. Dave Simonett’s sonorous vocal sits perfectly with the band’s subtle dynamics and clever use of space to let the melody breathe.
It might take 7 tracks before we really get into the beef of ‘A Blues Tribute’ with Duke Robillard’s shimmering notes, on his Grateful Dead style arrangement of ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’, but it’s worth the wait. Better still is the deep toned blues harp playing of Will Wilde, who dips into a Canned Heat style boogie version of Dale Hawkins’s ‘Susie Q’, on the only Creedence hit not written by Fogerty.
CCR’s swamp rock-blues is perfectly represented by Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King’s chiming rhythms of ‘Run Through The Jungle’. The contrast between King’s deep vocal and Kubek’s stinging solo gives the song a perfect lift.
There’s barely a weak track on this album, as each artist brings something new to their respective covers.
In an age where compilation albums often rely on impersonal mp4 drop-ins for their building blocks , ‘A Blues Tribute To Creedence’ rises above such mechanistic concerns. Doubtless, Jurgen Engler and Chris Lietz’s mastering gives the album it’s sheen, but there’s an undeniable vitality born of original arrangements and vibrant performances. The album’s brevity aside, ‘A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival’ is a worthy tribute to a great band. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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