Many people look at the blues as a somber, low-key form of music that dwells in misery and sadness. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Sorrow is one of the most powerful human emotions, and the purpose of all art is to give expression to our innermost feelings. For years, singing about the dark side of life has given people the opportunity to transcend their problems.|
This is not the only kind of blues, however. Sometimes the blues can make you happy. There is a whole tradition of uptempo, high-energy blues that is more a celebration of life than a lament for one’s troubles. Dusty Sommers new CD Blues, Take Me Home is firmly in the high-energy, feel-good blues tradition exemplified by John Lee Hooker, among others. “I feel good/like I thought I would,” sang John Lee in his classic “Boogie Chillun.” Listen to Dusty, and you’ll feel good too.
This is blues stripped down to the bare essentials. Dusty and David “Red” Reo play acoustic guitar while Tom “Mad Dog” Fields wails on the harmonica and Bruce Vallone keeps the rhythm going on upright bass. No drums, no amps, just the blues. Sommers sings with the uninhibited spirit of Grateful Dead patriarch Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. Like Pigpen, he doesn’t have the most polished voice, but the joy and passion he brings to his performance renders such judgments irrelevant. “To me, the blues come from the heart…it’s not how fast you can play or how good you can sing,” says Dusty in the album’s liner notes.
The blues is a very personal art form, and throughout the years different bluesmen have put their own stamp on traditional tunes, creating endless variations on the same themes. So it’s no surprise that the song I know as “Mean Old Frisco” shows up here as “Special Rider,” while “Sun Gonna Shine” bears strong resemblance to “I Know You Rider.” It’s hard to sing a song that has been sung thousands of times and make it sound like your own, but Dusty inhabits these songs so completely you would think he wrote them.
The title track is the one original on the album, and it fits in seamlessly with the traditional tunes. The joy that Sommers brings to tunes like “Mean Old World” and “Going Down Slow” is given freer rein here, and you can tell that this is a man who is flat-out, head-over-heels in love with the blues. If Dusty’s voice is reminiscent of Pigpen, the spirited picking of Sommers and Reo has the same energy and rhythm of Jorma Kaukonen’s acoustic work. The Reo instrumental “Back Way To Nowhere” showcases the acoustic interplay between the two, revealing the musical bond that the two share.
Interestingly enough, some of the disc’s finest moments are the “bonus tracks” at the end. “Me and My Black Dogs” is a venture into electric slide playing, and Dusty sounds just as good plugged as he does unplugged. An alternate version of “Mean Old World” with Red and Dusty on National steel provides interesting contrast, and the blues classic “Two Trains Running” is well done.
However, the real gem of this album is a deeply bluesy rendition of the Police’s “Shadows In The Rain.” The original is an almost hyperactive, high-energy jazz number, but here it is slowed down to a crawl and given a very sympathetic reading. “Woke up in my clothes again this morning/Don’t know exactly where I am/I should heed my doctor’s warning/He does the best with me he can” are great blues lyrics, even if Sting didn’t write them with that in mind. This version shows that the blues are where you find them,
and wherever you find the blues is home.