Fiona Boyes – Professin’ The Blues
Reference Recordings RR-140
16 songs – 54 minutes
Australian singer/guitarist/songwriter Fiona Boyes returns to the basics with Professin’ The Blues, her latest release on California-based Reference Recordings.
Fiona can roar like a lioness when backed by a full electric band. But this one catches in a much more relaxed setting. Like the first-generation blues men she honors, she delivers a collection of 14 originals and two covers in all-acoustic solo, duo and trio formats and accompanied in pared-down formats that include only bass drum and tambourines, cymbals and mallets and similar arrangements.
She delivers her message on traditional acoustic, resonator and four-string cigar-box axes, backed only by bassist Denny Croy, who’s worked with Doug MacLeod and the Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz, and Jimi Bott, one of the most decorated drummers in the blues, whose pedigree includes service time with The Mannish Boys, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Rod Piazza And The Mighty Flyers, Junior Watson and many others. All of the material was recorded in one take without benefit of any overdubs or added effects.
A former graphic artist with Lonely Planet, the popular Down Under travel guide, Boyes’ career in the blues began about 25 years ago after winning an Australian-produced Maton guitar in a coffeehouse talent show. She released her first CD, Blues In My Heart, in 2000 after a five-year stint in the all-girl band, The Mojos. It earned her honors for Aussie’s Female Artist, Song and Album Of The Year. Three years later, she rocketed to stardom by winning the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
The 13th release in her catalog, this one’s dedicated to “Professor” Keith O. Johnson, Reference Recording’s technical director, who engineered this project at Skywalker Studio in Marin County using his own hand-built equipment. Beginning with “Can’t Stay Here No More,” it’s mellow and relaxed throughout with the ambiance of a home concert in front of a roaring fire – even though some of the subject matter is serious in nature. Boyes’ voice remains powerful yet subdued.
The opener finds Fiona, a 2016 Blues Blast Awards nominee for Female Artist Of The Year, with her bags packed and ready to go at the end of a troubled relationship, while “Devil You Know,” which follows, displays the masterful fingerpicking techniques she employs throughout as it informs the listener that Satan might be living right next door ready to accuse you for any perceived indiscretion. The musical stylings brighten for “Lay Down With Dogs,” about a two-legged canine who’s running with the wrong crowd and coming home with fleas, while the ballad “Angels And Boats” describes Boyes’ new flood-prone hometown near the Great Barrier Reef on Australia’s east coast.
“One Rule For You” features Fiona on a purposely out-of-tune National Reso-Phonic guitar as it criticizes folks who possess an unjustified sense of self-entitlement. She switches to cigar box lap guitar for “Card Sharp,” which is dedicated to a cheating ex and describes someone holding a hand with a disappearing queen. She’s back on Reso-Phonic for the tongue-in-cheek “Old And Stiff,” which refers to the condition her husband, known as The Preacher, once complained about upon waking.
“Kiss Me Darling” sings about the difficulties encountered in a love relationship with a musician. The theme continues in “Love Me All The Way,” which Boyes wrote with Gary Vincent during a trip to Clarksdale, Miss. Bott keeps time on a cardboard box for “Stubborn Old Mule,” an upbeat tune about a miserable bully, before Fiona takes a trip to New Orleans for the instrumental “Catfish Fiesta.”
“If I Should Die” follows. It’s a simple tune on the surface, but contains deep meaning to the singer. “At The Crossroads” recounts a sermon delivered by The Preacher, who’s a real-life Anglican priest. “Love Changing Blues” describes the difficult path to finding real romance, from the perspective of a woman who was divorced and childless but found happiness with a man with five children and – now – eight grandkids. Covers of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Face In The Mirror,” penned by fellow Aussie bluesman Chris Wilson, bring the set to a close.
Available wherever fine CDs are sold, Professin’ The Blues is a delight throughout, gritty, yet sweet. Added bonus: A richly annotated, 20-page book of liner notes written and illustrated by the Boyes and designed by Kristy Hough.