Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews
Elvin Bishop – The Blues Rolls On – Delta Groove
Published on January 26, 2009
Out of the work songs and field hollers that were the probable precursors of the blues came this most fecund of American musical art forms. The blues has ties to multiple musical genres including ragtime, jazz, country, gospel, r&b and rock. The blues revival of the 1960s resurrected the careers of several of the great bluesmen of the past and produced several new artists of whom Elvin Bishop has remained of fundamental importance to the blues rock phenomenon.
Bishop’s latest album “The Blues Rolls On” is a follow up to 2005’s “Gettin’ My Groove Back” which reached the top ten on the blues charts. Even more than that release, this latest record is a celebration of the musical form that he has been playing for more than 45 years. His introduction to the blues while living in heavily segregated Tulsa, Oklahoma during the 1950s has an epiphanic resonance to all who love the mythic origins of rock and its many tributaries. It was the experience of listening to Jimmy Reed playing the harmonica on the song “Honest I Do”, heard through a mist of static from distant WLAC broadcasting from Nashville which he attributes as the source of his passion for the blues. Mr. Bishop describes the music as “piercing and cutting through like a knife”.
Bishop later attended The University of Chicago, meeting fellow aficionado Paul Butterfield during his first week roaming that city’s famous blues cauldrons. All of the greats of the era could be heard performing in any of the numerous blues and folk oriented clubs that were the Mecca of that rich and vital music scene. Adding guitarist Mike Bloomfield, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded their first album with its eponymous title in 1965. It ushered in a new era and a new musical genre: blues rock. The Butterfield Band had a further appointment with history, teaming with Bob Dylan for an enormously controversial electric appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. To call that event seismic would be to understate its importance. Bishop left the band in 1968, moving to San Francisco and recording several solo hits in the 1970s. He continues to tour and record, his slide guitar technique developing over the years into its familiar slashing expressiveness coupled with a lively wit that is stylistically unique.
“The Blues Rolls On” features a host of excellent blues musicians including B. B. King, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, George Thorogood, James Cotton, Kim Wilson and John Nemeth. Bishop sings on most of the tracks, his voice a raspy approximation of a crooner, with Nemeth and others pitching in on a few. The guitar playing is the focus of this splendid recording and it is superb. On Bishop’s remake of his 70s solo hit “Struttin’ My Stuff” with Haynes and Trucks we hear some of the finest recorded slide guitar playing since the heyday of Duane Allman and the canonic “Layla” album. The crackling track with B. B. King “Keep a Dollar in Your Pocket” features some banter with the legendary bluesman. As this is a widescreen view of the state of the blues the youngest accompanying musician on this celebration of the music is nine years old, the oldest is 82. This inspirational recording is a wonderful overview of modern blues. Bishop’s love for the genre can be heard in every sustained, over-driven note.
The music was recorded at multiple venues ranging from state-of-the-art studios, the Voodoo Lounge and “The Legendary Blues Cruise” off the west coast of Mexico. The sound reflects this; it is generally excellent but is variable by nature. However, there is nothing detrimental to the music which shines regardless of where it was recorded.
– Mike Birman