Album review: NOAH WOTHERSPOON BAND – Mystic Mud

Noah Wotherspoon Band - Mystic Mud

Noah Wotherspoon Band [Release date 16.07.15]

The Noah Wotherspoon Band impress with the depth of their songs, their inspirational playing and cool use of dynamics. ‘Mystic Mud’ is a contemporary sounding crossover blues/roots set, but it’s the understated way in which the band realizes its musical potential that makes the album special.

Cincinnati guitarist Wotherspoon clearly believes in a less is more philosophy. His arrangements are crystal clear, his voice is warm and engaging, and his phrasing always searches for lyrical meaning, while his slide playing is as tasteful as it is passionate.

He fronts the rhythm section of bassist Rob Thaxton and drummer Brian Aylor who dig deep on several grooves as Noah explores a full range of tones. This is a band that understands the notion of pulling back on a song to create tension and latent power, with the result that they deliver music of real stature and poise.

Noah is a gifted young blues talent who has already won the 2015 Best Guitarist Award at the International Blues Challenge, while the band came a creditable second in the final. However, you suspect it’s not awards that interest the band so much as just hitting those magical moment when they take off.  They do so on ‘Goin’ To Mississippi’, which moves from a grungy intro into a big slide figure as the band steps up a gear on an album full of understated quality and well crafted songs

Wotherspoon is a deeply expressive player whose guitar breaks always add something to a song rather than simply dominate it.

He opens with the lilting feel of ‘What’s Gonna Become Of Me’ and explores a bigger distorted tone on the Blind Willie McTell style riff of ‘Two Face Woman’. A refreshingly succinct style glues together 12 coherent, but musical diverse songs and gives ‘Mystic Mud’ its organic feel.

Noah also incorporates traditional blues elements into contemporary arrangements to bring his own colour to the palette. There’s a Hound Dog Taylor ‘can do’ minimalist spirit at the heart of the album and it’s the way the band breaks through the subtle tension building moments that make this CD special.

The slide-led boogie of ‘Highway Song’  balances natural exuberance with composure and they lean into the shuffle-blues of ‘Natural Fact’ as if born to the task, while Noah adds his vibrato to the slow blues of ‘Troubled’.  His solo cuts through the track like an animated conversation over a drum tight rhythm section. His playing is an extension of his lyrics, as he strips down his blues to communicate deep emotions in a simplistic manner. And his sparkling licks are remarkably concise, but always serve to lever us into the substance of a song.

Even when they rock out on ‘Rock n’ Roll Placebo’, it’s a surprisingly relaxed affair which like most of the album makes subtle use of the power of musical suggestion.

Put simply, the band has the chops to exude self confidence and express itself in quality songs. They hit a groove to see where it takes them and they focus on real feel rather than power and speed. Their subtle use of space and time also underpins Noah’s tones to give the album a richer feel.

Vocalist Jessi Bair joins Noah on ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, a gently nuanced atmospheric Americana piece which is coloured by another guitar effect to give the song real purchase. The resolution comes in the shape of a languid solo with understated power. It starts with gently strummed chords before rising impressively – think Robin Trower meets Walter Trout – over a backdrop of cymbal crashes and an ascending bass line, as the band impressively pushes on into rock/blues territory.

‘Meant To Suffer’ is a more uplifting Creedence Clearwater Revival sounding piece, but with a far more relaxed vocal than John Fogerty would ever countenance.

‘Mystic Mud’ is built on deep blues antecedents, but frequently pulls the band into different musical directions, as evidenced by the John Lennon influenced vocal on ‘Out Of Mind’ . The song is an exercise in song craft and feels like a musical related piece of an imaginative musical jigsaw.

They finish with a short acoustic rag which illustrates the band’s traditional influences and their musical diversity. ‘Mystic Mud’  mixes real feel with originality and inspired playing and is well worth purchasing. **** ½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra


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