12 songs – 53 minutes
Despite being a key component of many early blues/jug combos, and despite the stellar contributions of artists like Yank Rachell, Carl Martin and Johnny Young to blues music generally, for many years the mandolin took a back seat in the cabal of blues instrumentation. In recent years, however, the likes of Steve James, Billy Flynn and Ry Cooder have blazed a fresh trail for fans, re-emphasizing how perfectly the airy, tenor tone of the mandolin sits in the frequency spectrum to complement the contrasting tonal qualities of the guitar and the piano. While not as famous as the likes of James, Flynn and Cooder, Bert Deivert certainly deserves his place in the pantheon of modern-day blues mandolin masters.
Blood In My Eyes For You is Deivert’s 12th album and the fourth featuring his melodic blues mandolin mastery. Featuring two self-composed songs and 10 covers of classic blues songs, Blood In My Eyes is a little gem of an album. Deivert was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but has led a peripatetic existence. Recently, he has been based in Sweden and is backed on the album by Copperhead Run, featuring the local (and very impressive) acoustic talents of Fredrik Lindholm on drums, Janne Zander on guitars and Per-Arne Pettersson on bass. Together they provide subtle support for Deivert’s voice and mandolin, locking into irresistible rhythms on tracks like “My Baby’s Gone” and “Drop Down Mama”.
While many of the songs are well-known, Deivert and crew prefer to re-interpret the tracks in their own way. The title track, for example, replaces the violin and folksy octave-bounce of the Mississippi Sheiks’ original with slide guitar and mandolin, whilst still retaining its distinctive toe-tapping groove. Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” probably owes as much to Them’s famous cover as it does to the original. And Son House’s “Death Letter” is actually slowed down a tad, adding to its haunting tone, albeit within the primal dread of House’s original.
Deivert’s two original songs sit comfortably with the classics. “Black Nanny” features a busy bass line under-pinning the hypnotic, one-chord verse, and “Cuckoo Crowed” has a slightly more modern feel and some superb slide guitar from Zander.
Throughout the album, Deivert’s mandolin alternates between contributing driving rhythm to the likes of “Special Agent” or adding beautiful, nuanced emphasis to particular vocal lines, for example in the up-beat shuffle of Sleepy John Estes’ “Mailman Blues”.
Recorded live in the studio in Karlstad, Sweden, by Mattias Perez, the album captures the feel of a juke joint gig in the American south in the warmth and immediacy of the instrumentation as well as that indefinable magic of musicians playing off each other.
Blood In My Eyes For You is a really enjoyable album of superbly-played, mandolin-led blues. If one were to nit-pick, it would be good to see more original songs but maybe that’s something for the next album. Until then, this is a great place to start to enjoy the blues of Bert Deivert.