Blues Boulevard [Released 10.10.14]
On ‘Hunters Moon’, David Migden sings: “I walk the hills on my own, I’ve hunted down all that is flesh and bone, An arrow and a bow, I have a knife in my hand, I carved a line between animal and man.” And therein lies the album title of an eclectic but essential slice of noir blues.
David Migen & The Twisted Roots featured in the 2013 Blues Matters writers’ poll and represented the UK at the 2014 European Blues Challenge. And yet their music sits uneasily in either the blues or jazz world, which is strange as both elements provide essential building blocks for a superbly conceived, pristinely recorded and delightfully played album.
Migden’s own defining baritone has echoes of Lou Rawls and Brook Benton, which he applies like thick brush strokes on an artists canvas to evoke feel, mood and a sense of place. His lyrical imagery sometimes mirrors the self, the surreal and the imagined. He’s a decent trumpet player too, as he revels alongside Mike Austin’s clarinet on ‘Rougalou’ and the doctored trumpet parts on ‘The Big Fight’.
‘Animal & Man’ is a startlingly original album, of which Migden says in his liner notes: ‘We have created the genuine organic sound that we were aiming for’.
The band’s live in the studio approach is nailed by engineer Mike Thorne who deftly combines feel with polish. But the key to album is Midgen’s lyrical depth and his ability to voice songs in such a way that you actually care about their meaning.
He spent his formative years in Little Rock,Arkansas before settling in the UK, but he clearly immersed himself in the stories and culture of the south, as the album is shot through with the imagery and music of his upbringing.
The songs resonate and draw the listener in, especially the Louisiana spooky folklore and New Orleans cool of ‘Rougaroo’, complete with its beautiful jazzy horn led coda.
Then there’s the delicate harmonies and sense of isolation of ‘Desert King’. It’s a beautifully sculpted vibes led shuffle that neatly contrasts the gentle accompaniment with Midgden’s imposing baritone.
The album opens with the stuttering rhythm of ‘Wamp’ as Joe Gibson’s guitar threads its way through the heart of the song before spiralling into an ascending frenetic solo as Migden punches out his sense of purpose: “I got the job and I got the crew, We got the tools and we know what to do”.
The band leans into the organ sweep and sumptuous groove of the Darwinian ‘The Big Fight’. David adds a suitably muscular vocal and the sparks fly.
In sharp contrast, ‘We Know What You Have Done’ is an atmospheric gently voiced duet with Goldie Reed. It’s full of space, pregnant pauses, and alternates shimmering tones with Joe Gibson’s spidery guitar and David’s peerless phrasing.
The a cappella intro of ‘Wild World’ gives the album a lift, as Midgen outlines his own joy de vivre: ‘Kick the doors down out the windows up, And let the wild world come right on in’.
The apparent autobiographical ‘Petit Jean’ reels us in, on the closest the album gets to rocking out as Graham Mann’s feverish keyboard riffs perfectly underpins the harmony vocals and ‘Hunters Wood’ sounds like something Jim Morrison might have enjoyed, with its mid number rap, bubbling groove and edgy lyrics. As it is, it’s hard to imagine the band’s performance being bettered as it shimmers and sways into the fade out over a drifting piano line on another album highlight.
An aching love song ‘Once Again’ brings closure, suggesting that Migden’s animal instincts are ultimately subsumed by love: ‘In the morning, you’ll be searching through the trash, because honey you’ll want to make this feeling last.’
‘Animal & Man’ is an organic gem of an album made with love, care and real inspiration and you should seek it out. *****
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.
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