Damon Fowler – The Whiskey Bayou Session
Whiskey Bayou Records
11 tracks | 45 minutes
Who is Damon Fowler? On this, his seventh solo effort, he is produced by “Louisiana’s No. 1 roots export”, Tab Benoit, co-writer on five of the songs. They are a musical match made in heaven. The well-oiled rhythm machine of Justin Headley on drums and Todd Edmonds on bass adds considerable weight to the proceedings. They have together made a record worthy of as much praise as it will undoubtedly receive. This one is for the ages.
Damon plays a truly great guitar with his brilliant tone and other-worldly dexterity never getting in the way of each song’s particular nuance on the southern blues roots genre. His virtuoso lap steel playing is reminiscent of sounds heard on many great records from the past but his leads are never directly derivative. The melodic structure always takes a new path to the logical endpoint you don’t see coming. He pairs his signature guitar licks with rhythmic chord changes that utilize multiple voicings always on the move, up or down to their destinations. Damon leaves it up to the well-placed leads to take the twists and turns on the road to salvation, the lyrical central theme throughout. “It came out of nowhere” opens the set. It may have “hit him by surprise and threw him for a loop” but the listener is immediately with him and on his side. When the lead hits and the drummer follows along note for note, hit for hit, the stage is set for music made by musicians not afraid to go for it. The southern funk on “Fairweather friend” keeps the party going and Damon’s treble soaked Nashville-style leads never fail to please.
Damon’s voice is the main focus of the album and he delivers his tales in an unassuming back-woods slightly hoarse yet tuneful bayou drawl not far from the greats such as Dr. John or Billy F. Gibbons, not quite as easy going as J.J. Cale but he can get there. There are a lot of great musical moments. His high range is not wasted and is a cut above the rest. In the Little Walter penned “Up The Line” he trades in the old Chicago style blues for the slick lick from Jimi Hendrix’ Band of Gypsys “Power to Love” and combines it with Lynard Skynard’s ”Swamp Music” boogie.
On another cover, his take on the traditional gospel tune “Just a closer walk with thee”, he shows his spiritual side in not compromised. This song possibly dates back to before the Civil War as a slave field work song and has been recorded over 100 times since its “discovery” in 1940. Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s 1941 version has her trail blazing non-secular lead guitar work and her soaring soulful vocalizing. The 1960 Patsy Cline slow burning weeper smacks of deep devotion. The song seems to have an uncanny ability to be reborn with each additional interpretation. Even today rock icon Jack White sings it live and The Avett Brothers regularly sing it as an encore. Damon adds the best of what he brings to the table. “I am weak but thou art strong.” Redemption is a musician’s stock and trade and somehow his version of the hymn captures the essence in two-step style. Maybe it’s the “Let it Be, Lord, Let it Be” which attracts us as it may have for the Beatles on their popular swan song. If some songs have legs then this one’s a centipede.
The record displays copious amounts of swamp boogie on the backend. “Pour Me” is a clever double entendre song “Pour me a glass of your knowledge so that I can see the smartest man that could ever be, pour me, pour me. I got a question. I got a problem. Can you help poor me?” These are great lyrics with a twist. Liquor has always been a part of the traditional blues medicine and this is one heck of a drinking tune. “Holiday” has original and personal lyrics about leaving stress behind. “I can’t take it no more…lead me to the water, draw a line out in the sand…I don’t care about you plans. I just need a holiday.” The half-time chorus emphasizes musically his need to slow it down.
The hit here is the next song “Running out of time” with the built in sing-a-long chorus “I can’t wait to cross that county line…” stimulates visions of dirt roads and the feeling of escape. The happy-go-lucky groove and the picking up speed hot licks harks back to his roots as one third of Butch Trucks’ Freight Train Band guitarists and his now side gig with Dickey Betts’ Band. He also is in “Southern Hospitality” on Blind Pig Records with Victor Wainwright on Hammond B3 and J.P. Soars on guitar. Damon plays well with others. He’s a throwback to the days gone by where dual guitars made sense. By himself here he does just fine and needs little assistance. “Florida Baby”, a dreamy travelogue from Pensacola to Tampa, ends our journey with the comforting sounds of the lap steel which in his capable hands provides an unforgettable coda to an album worth buying.