12 songs — 44 minutes
Born in England, based out of the Blue Mountains of Australia for decades and — because of her extensive touring schedule — truly a citizen of the world, Chris Okunbor is a multi-instrumentalist musician who possesses a powerful, deep voices.
Although she doesn’t achieve the low notes of Alexis P. Suter’s true baritone and her range is somewhat limited to a deep alto, her vocals stand out in the crowd as she accompanies herself on lap steel and other guitars, banjo and ukulele. The 2016 Sidney Blues Society solo blues artist of the year, she represented New South Wales at the subsequent International Blues Challenge in Memphis in addition to multiple European tours.
A former arranger/producer/director for Babble On, a world music TV series, this is her third album, following a collection of children’s tunes in the ’80s and Peckman’s Plateau, which remained on the Australian Blues And Roots Charts for five months after its release in 2014. Like this one, it features a blend of new tunes and covers as it delivers the feeling of a bygone era.
Wailin’ And Raggin’ The Blues is more than a solo performance, however. It’s really an international effort. Chris has enlisted musicians from five countries to aid her along the way, including fellow Aussie guitarist Derek Phillips and didgeridoo player Charlie McMahon, German guitarist Didi Van Fritz, Dutch guitarist Iwan Gronert and American rapper and beat performer The Couch King.
The music alternates between acoustic and electric and kicks off with the original, “Loco Howl,” about a “steamin’ hot mama with a hellfire mind.” It’s an acoustic tune with Chris on guitar, aided by an uncredited harmonica player. Covers of Sleepy John Estes’ haunting “Broke And Hungry” and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Write Me A Few Lines,” which features Phillips on slide guitar, receive interesting new treatments while remaining faithful to the originals.
Two more slow blues originals — “Workin’ The Cottonfields,” which gives Chris a chance to show offer her guitar skills and deals with a laborer with legitimate fears about the future, and the electrified “Lonesome Worrisome Blues,” which highlights Gronert and carries the theme forward — follow before a fresh take on Memphis Minnie’s “Tell Me Baby,” backed by Phillips.
Chris is on banjo for the originals “Good Lovin’ Man,” about finally finding the right guy after brushing off others who stand out from the rank-and-file but still don’t offer up what the singer needs, and “Hesitating Wedding Ring Blues,” written and delivered from the perspective of a bride with second thoughts on the eve of her nuptials. Both tunes have a distinct pre-War feel.
“Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing,” written by first-generation blues superstar Bukka White and aided by McMahon on didgeridoo, and the Little Willie John soul blues classic “I Need Your Love So Bad,” featuring Van Fritz on acoustic guitar, follow before two more originals — “Lifelong Battery Boy,” a sweet tribute to a child who simply can’t keep still, and “Crispin’ Up The Biscuits,” a warm and fuzzy blues rap featuring The Couch King — bring the set to a close.
Available through CDBaby and streamed through SoundCloud, Wailin’ And Raggin’ The Blues is worth the effort to acquire if you’re a fan of acoustic blues. The covers are all solidly original despite their age and recording history, and Chris O is a songwriter of the first order. A delight from beginning to end.