It seems like every year there’s a new contender for the saviour of the blues and as soon as the yearly polls are announced the arguments begin.
So rather than raking over old coals, let’s celebrate the up and coming blues star Castro Coleman, better known professionally as Mr. Sipp (short for Mr. Mississippi), “The Mississippi Blues Child.”
Tonight in a corner of South West France, he’s clocked up the kilometres to get to the festival from Belgium. He’s also fought off some inclement weather to turn around a laid back crowd with the kind of high-wire blues power that proves that blues can still be essential party music.
Born in Magnolia, Mississippi (roughly 4 miles from McComb), Mr.Sipp has already paid his dues with a remarkable 26 years as band leader, singer-songwriter, producer, session guitarist and label boss in the gospel market.
He’s a restless, creative spirit who has taken his talents to the next level by immersing himself in rocking blues while also carving out a new role as a blues marketing innovator.
And tonight is a good example of his innovatory approach. Sandwiched between the excellent French blues band Awek, and the timeless Louisiana soul-blues maestro Kenny Neal and his band, he makes the kind of impact so often lacking on the blues circuit.
His band hits the stage in superman outfits complete with lens less glasses. The band has yet to play a note a note and people are already drawn to the stage in a marketing masterstroke.
Of course he’s taking a chance, because having got the initial interest he has to deliver. And where Awek are subtle, virtuosic and very authentic, Mr. Sipp adds charisma and a fun filled approach that by the half way point of his show has already connected with the whole festival arena.
He’s a performer who knows the value of communicating the message of his music. He also commands the stage with real authority and reaches out to a crowd before hitting them with some stinging guitar and autobiographical songs with universal meanings.
From his repeated song links – “can we keep it rolling?” – to the ebullient way in which he draws us in: “Can you dance with us”, his feel good presence is based on subtly nuanced dynamics that lift the show and always emphasize the underlying substance of his songs.
He rocks and funks things up by turns, momentarily slips into r&b and gets all soulful. He shuffles mightily on ‘Gotta Let her Go’, and when he shouts out: “Let me play my guitar”, no one in the world is going to stop him.
He further dives into deep grooves with a rare sense of timing that uses the vibe as an energy boost. On songs like ‘Juke Joint’ he brilliantly fuses his intensity with the kind of ‘call and response’ moments that were the bread and butter of his gospel past and now form an essential part of his current guitar-led bluster.
It’s fire cracker stuff that can match any power house rock band you care to mention, but he replaces macho posturing with exhortations to join him in one big blues party.
The Relache Festival crowd laps it all up as he makes his way to the top of the furthest hill, stopping only for a quip sip of a generously offered pint and some scorching guitar playing. His walkabout evokes T-Bone Walker, Freddie King and the great Luther Allison, but ultimately his exorcises all the ghost of the blues past with his own brand of magic.
Showmanship aside, it’s the strength of his narratives and the variety of his guitar attack that brings light and shade to the set.
On songs like ‘Yes Man’ for example, he employs a clean guitar tone that evokes B.B. King, while on the gargantuan blues ‘Knock A Whole In It’ – the title track of his current album – he celebrates the fact that he’s taking the blues to new places with a new batch of disciples.
His band is razor sharp and follows his choreographic leads, before he draws on his own vocal, guitar and humour triumvirate to ignite the biggest blues party of the festival so far.
Tonight Mr. Sipp and his band leave their calling card by remoulding the blues to their own ends. They contemporize the music in front of an audience that promisingly spans generations and cultures and restates the timeless appeal of blues as an international language.
Such is the sheer scope of his musical oeuvre that by the time he leans into a belated and unexpected version of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’, you think, why not?
Mr. Sipp and his wonderful band explore every nook, cranny and emotion that the blues has to offer. And with his catalytic powers you suspect there’s a potentially big worldwide audience out there just waiting to join his blues party.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Anne Pioton
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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