Blind Lemon Records BLR-CD1503
21 songs – 66 minutes
Here’s a truly interesting treat: an album of acoustic blues recorded live in Germany by Englishman Adam Franklin, who executes this collection of 13 covers and eight originals flawlessly as he breathes new life into the 100-year-old art form that remains vital, but has been overwhelmed by electric blues on American shores.
Best known in the U.S. for his work in a duo with Seattle-based guitar master Del Rey, Franklin possesses a soulful, powerful tenor as he accompanies himself on resonator guitar in multiple tunings in stylings ranging from claw-hammer and finger-picking to slide and doubling on ukulele. Not to be confused with a Brit with the same name who fronted the rock band Swervedriver, he’s the son of a jazz musician from Sussex who conducts frequent workshops.
Captured before a live audience at the Schwarze Ross in Bookholzberg, Germany, on the final night of a European tour and released on Blind Lemon Records, a label that quickly established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of acoustic blues, Outside Man features Franklin solo throughout with the exception of an assist from harmonica player Thomas Freund on the closing two cuts, and it’s accompanied by detailed liner notes in both English and German.
The disc kicks off with the Franklin original, “I’m Walkin’,” about surviving life without a car. It comes across flawlessly with the feel of a tune that could have been written in the 1920s. Next up is a treatment of “Jumpin’ At Shadows,” a hit in the ‘60s for Duster Bennett, the Brit bluesman who died in a car wreck before age 30.
Two tunes from the first generation of blues superstars — Willie Harris’ “New Drive A Stranger From Your Door” and Blind Boy Fuller’s “Catman Blues” – follow before the original, “Tucking With My Baby (On A Friday Night),” which saw former life on Franklin’s last studio album. Next up is “Teaching Rag/I’m Gonna Get High,” which combines a song Adam wrote as an instructional piece for fingerpicking students and a melody first set down by Tampa Red.
Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues” before two more originals – the ukulele-driven “Crazy, Crazy Baby” and the cover tune “Outside Man,” inspired by Ray Davies’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” – flow seamlessly. Tampa Red’s “You Can’t Get That Stuff No More” and Washboard Sam’s “Tell Me Mama” sandwich the risqué original, “Jazz Hole Boogie,” about a pair of lovers looking for a place for romance.
Washboard Sam’s “Tell Me Mama” and Fuller’s familiar “Walking My Troubles Away” pave the way for the original, “Jackie Nunn,” written as a tribute to a trumpet player who was a good friend of Franklin’s father. A medley of “Summertime/St. James Infirmary” follows before Adam delivers the instrumental “Steve’s Train,” penned to honor U.S. singer-songwriter Steve James, a longtime Franklin favorite, before five more covers — Bo Carter’s “I Want You To Know,” Jelly Roll Morton’s “Dr. Jazz,” Son House’s “Preaching Blues,” Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Cross Your Heart” and Johnson’s “Love In Vain” – bring the set to a close.
Available through Germany’s www.bear-family.com or directly from the artist, Outside Man is definitely worth the effort to acquire if your tastes run to acoustic blues. It’s a warm, rich production from an artist and label that truly understand and love the medium.