Nugene Records [Release date 16.03.18]
There’s a lot to be said for just following your stream of consciousness and moulding it into a song by simply plugging in and laying down your art. It’s something Ian Siegal and his exemplary Dutch band are comfortable with and it gives ‘All The Rage’ its edge and immediacy.
Siegal has long taken the rhythmic intensity and work practices of North Mississippi Hill Music to his heart, while adding his own narratives and whisky laced vocals.
He cut his last two studio albums over in the tiny small farming community of Coldwater with Cody Dickenson from North Mississippi Allstars producing. This suited his focussed, but sometimes rough-edged style perfectly, because he has the lyrical ability and deep vocal range to formulate his own musical persona.
He’s carved out a role as a blues chameleon – one part Wolf, one part Waits, one part Beefheart and with shades of Dylan – but always shot through with his own uncompromising take on whatever subject interests him.
But it’s one thing to tap into a culture and work with the indigenous players and quite another to pen the depth of material and deliver it with the requisite amount of passion – or perhaps in this case anger – and cut it live in a handful of sessions.
The success of this exquisitely produced album (that is both Jimbo Mathus’s deft production and the band’s own sterling performance of Siegal’s material) is due to the sheer emotion that Siegal pours into his performance.
Truth be told, on some of the more oblique songs such as the biblical imagery of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, we’re engaged by his vocal delivery, the band’s simple but insistent groove and the Nick Cave style ‘woohoo’ refrain, rather than the lyrical meaning.
There’s a weary discontent and anger at the heart of ‘All The Rage’, which reflects the world events that provide a backdrop to this set of songs. Yet they could just as easily have been imagined by an artist for whom a colourful narrative is essential
There’s irony too in the title, which in the context of the album refers to anger rather than the sense of being in vogue.
It’s all there’s in the imagery of the opening cut, which is probably about the current bellicose US administration. It also bubbles up on the lyrically excellent ‘Ain’t You Great’, which despite the title is about: “All this hate again.”
There’s an upshot though, which is that the current parlous state of things appears to have kick-started Siegal’s writing again,
‘All The Rage’ is his first self penned studio album for several years (he writes in both solo and band mode). It’s an album on which the raw instrumentation and edgy guitar tones hark back to post-war Chicago blues and their Mississippi antecedents to cleverly reflect the darkness of his songs.
Rafael Schwiddessen’s opening shuffle drum intro and Dusty Ciggaar’s chiming chords on ‘Eagle Vulture’ – sets up the perfect musical context for Ian Siegal’s earthy voice. He phrases eloquently and consistently throughout a very organic album that gives him plenty of room to emphasize a vowel or a lyrical nuance and makes good use of bv’s and Jimbo Mathus’s layered keys.
The opening ‘Ring Of Fire’ style riff builds a tension that is belated broken by a waspish toned slide. Siegal’s subsequent primal scream emphasizes the anger of his lyrics: “Men of learning, men of congress, harm and hatred they hamper progress.”
He smoothes things out on the Americana tinged ‘Won’t Be Your Shot Gun Rider’ with real echoes of Dylan on his vocal phrasing and The Band on the nicely ragged musical support.
There’s a complete contrast on the Latino feel of ‘Ain’t You Great’, which provides the line for the album title, as Siegal applies a close-to-the-mic baritone as if to emphasise a range of biting lyrics: “They found the biggest lunatics and handed them the keys”, and “Nobody’s listening to your prayers, now get up off your knees, they locked the gate of heaven and the devil holds the keys.”
It’s all voiced over a big tremolo guitar sound and the smouldering arrangement perfectly evokes the acerbic lyrics on an outstanding track.
His focus shifts to the Tom Waits styled ‘My Flame’, which already makes its impact without the need of a hammy pedal steel.
‘One Eye King’ is all about the pacing and dynamics of a song that really does sound as if it’s a real band playing inspirational music that captures the moment. Siegal goes on to deliver a succession of colourful lines, such as; “I saw lighting in the bottle but the seal remained unbroken”.
He’s back in a post Howlin’ Wolf vibe on ‘If I Live’, as the band locks into a solid groove. His magisterial phrasing dominates a track that is a lyrical counter-balance to much of the subject matter that has gone before.
The soulful blues of ‘Sweet Souvenir’ starts like Van Morrison and heads into gospel territory, on another vocal triumph and a love story that never stoops to cliché, even when it’s set in a bar!
He wraps things up with evocative ‘Sailor Town’. Co-written with Hook Herrera, its a song with the kind of narrative that could be as real as it might be imagined, but gives Siegal the kind of noirish backdrop that he thrives on, while the band slips into a deep groove.
And its a combination of those deep grooves, intuitive interplay, real songcraft and a killer voice that makes ‘All The Rage’ one of the best blues albums of the year. *****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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