Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Jet City Blues CD Reviews

By Mark Dalton

Black Diamonds by Kim Field and the Mighty Titans of Tone

Hey Now! By Eric Daw

There are several good reasons to review these two CDs together – they were recorded at about the same time, by two men who were playing together in a band at the time (although the personnel on the two CDs are different on most tunes). The two CDs even share a song (Eric Daw’s “You’re the One”) in versions that offer a good comparison of these top-flight Northwest musicians.

The two CDs were also recorded in the same studio (Seattle’s Orbit Audio), both with an emphasis on an uncomplicated, live-in-the-studio, rootsy sound. Both these artists are comfortable as bluesmen, but both have a wider musical view. Influences from classic country music, 60’s soul music, and from the rise of rock and roll are evident here.

Of the two, Kim Field is the experienced master; possessed of a long and rich career as a performer, song writer, recording artist and graphic designer – and an internationally known music historian who literally “wrote the book” on the development and history of the harmonica. In his book "Harmonicas, Harps and Heavy Breathers," Kim traces his chosen instrument from its humble origins as a pocket instrument for cowboys and hoboes, to the highly amplified, soaring electric instrument launched by the likes of Little Walter and George “Harmonica” Smith into the front lines of modern improvisational music.

The younger man, Eric Daw arrived on the Seattle music scene less than a decade ago, and his rapid development as a guitarist; first as a dedicated sideman, seemingly popping up everywhere you looked, to a smoking instrumentalist and increasingly dazzling soloist, to a confident vocalist and a competent songwriter – this development has been a joy to watch and a pleasure to hear.

Kim Field’s album, Black Diamonds, represents a solid return to form by Kim as a songwriter. Kim has always pushed himself well beyond the clich├ęs that so many roots music songwriters fall into. “Endless boogie” crowd pleasers are notably absent here, although the Titans can rock with the best of them. What you get from Kim are finely crafted songs – both musically and lyrically – songs that often plunge deep into the heart of human relationships. In addition to calling up the spirits of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and their delta predecessors, Kim’s influences by later R&B and country music geniuses like Sam Cooke, Arthur Alexander, and Merle Haggard have added a richness and complexity to his work that sets this CD apart form any other area artist currently on the scene.

Kim’s CD opens up with one of the highlights of the set, “My Heart is Still My Own,” a rocking statement of survival in the face of romantic turmoil, followed by “The Language of Love” with the great line “don’t look to the Good Book, or the customs of Japan, if you want my touch, you got to put it in my hand.” “So Dark in Here” follows, a fine soul ballad reminiscent of the classic work of Dan Penn, followed by another of Kim’s rockin’ Cajun tunes (this one written with Henry Cooper), “Dis Pas Ca.” Other highlights of this excellent set include Kim’s signature harp instrumental, “Heavy Breathing,” his rollicking take on Eric Daw’s “You’re the One,” mentioned earlier, and the very dark “She’ll Bury You (In the Hole She Dug For Me)” here with Kim on delta style guitar. A reworking of the Slamhound Hunters' “The Snake Sheds it’s Skin” might make your skin crawl, and the title tune, “Black Diamonds,” is a minor blues coming straight out that desperate 3 am hour, with Kim’s huge harmonica tone flowing out of the speakers like black, bitter honey.

The musicians on this CD are all top-flight, with a special mention of Billy Spaulding’s rock-solid drumming throughout. As James Ellroy would say, DIG IT.

Eric Daw’s CD opens with the title tune, “Hey Now!” a Jimmie Vaughan-style instrumental shuffle which let’s you know right away that you are in for some treats with this collection! The personnel on this cut and several others make up another band that Daw stands out in during appearances around the area – The Satellite Four, a Booker T. and the MG's style instrumentals-only band featuring the amazing Jeff Conlin, who has quickly become my favorite area organist, as well as a solid rhythm section in Johnny Horn and David Hudson on bass and drums. If you like what you hear on this track, “Ricky’s Revenge,” and “Under Control,” you need to get out and see The Satellite Four live! They will blow you away, guaranteed.

There’s plenty of great guitar scattered all over this set – Daw is an imaginative player who covers a lot of territory, all done with true feeling and a lot of style.

Eric has a lighter touch with his singing, but again, this man is growing by leaps and bounds before our eyes and ears, and he carries this initial solo CD very well as a frontman. His vocal touch on “You’re the One” calls up the classic Hollywood rock-a-billy of Ricky Nelson, and had my wife dancing around the room singing along. Expect more great things from Eric Daw – ‘cause we’re gonna get ‘em!

The best idea, of course, is to get out and see these cats live and pick up these CDs direct from the source, but if need be, you can get either one or both from http://www.cdbaby.com/. You WILL be glad you did!

Originally from Nebraska, Mark Dalton moved to Seattle in the early '70s. He is an accomplished bassist and stalwart bluesman. He currently plays with Chris Stevens' Surf Monkeys. Photo by Ronda Lee.

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