Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Ain't No Cure For Them Jungle Blues..."

Australia is one of the few places that during it's early colonial era experienced a history not disimilar to the Wild West of the United States.  But much like I would've never expected an Aussie to write a Southern Gothic novel as Nick Cave did with And the Ass Saw the Angel, nor would I expect one to record not one but two albums of country blues mixed with hints of ragtime and calypso as C.W. Stoneking has. And he's done it well.

Stoneking's 2008 Jungle Blues is an enjoyable trip through a kaleidoscope of a rich musical past.  "Jailhouse Blues" is every bit country blues as "The Love Me or Die" is flavored with the Caribbean, while the title track, "Jungle Blues," has a heavy streak of vaudevillian carnival that a Tom Waits track might warble over.  He's obviously well-immersed in his chosen genres, and plays the music as more of a continuation rather than as merely a pale throwback. While a few tracks have some affectation, Stoneking has thankfully kept from immersing his entire album in canned scratches, hiss, and pops unlike a fair few modern revivalists, but as the sound seems to come from so genuine a place, they would hardly be necessary.

The album's only problem is that for the uninitiated to these earlier forms of music, the steam might run out for them a couple of tracks before the end. Either the album might have benefited from one or two more hookier upbeat numbers or at least a jostle to the track order, but it's hard to believe someone with a passion for this form of artistry would be trying to grab a mainstream audience.  In the end, I would think it beneficial for a first-time listener to not know or try and forget Stoneking's pedigree to keep this from merely coming off as a striking novelty record. At the right moment in the right setting (I'm thinking late in the evening, a few drinks in, maybe a smokey game of pool being played...) throw C.W. Stoneking's Jungle Blues on the old juke, and you'd be in for a treat.