16 songs – 50 minutes
The UK has produced several generations of great blues guitarists, from the initial wave of Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Rory Gallagher in the 1960s, to the latest “young bloods” such as Mark Harrison, Dave Dixon, Brian Carpy and Johnny Wright. 44 year-old Ian Siegal has actually been around for a while now, winning numerous British Blues Awards and being nominated for various US Blues Music Awards, without ever becoming the household name his talents deserve. If there is any justice in the world, however, that may be about to change.
As Blues Blast Magazine readers will know from his 05 July 2015 cover story, Siegal has had a particularly busy few months, releasing the acoustic ensemble work of The Picnic Sessions, the full-on electric blues of One Night in Amsterdam and the solo acoustic Man & Guitar (recorded at the Royal Albert Hall).
Let’s not beat around the bush here: The Picnic Sessions is an absolute gem. Featuring the serious talents of Siegal, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Cody Dickinson, Luther Dickinson and Jimbo Mathus, The Picnic Sessions shows what can happen when five musicians with a love of blues and roots Americana get together and play and sing, with no predetermined idea of the outcome.
Siegal explains the background to The Picnic Sessions as follows: “In June 2013 I went to the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, a festival near the town of Oxford MS and home turf for the Dickinson brothers and Alvin Youngblood Hart, my cohorts in the Mississippi Mudbloods. It’s also local to Jimbo Mathus, who I had long wanted to meet. Everyone was free the next day and up for a jam, so we piled into the Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch studio, sat in a semi-circle, campfire-style around some old ribbon microphones, and played and sang. It was a case of turn on the old tape machine and see what happens.”
Of course, the result could have been a directionless, self-indulgent mess. Thankfully, however, they produced a joyful, love-filled, magical mess, all recorded in two leisurely afternoon sessions. There are some traditional covers, some old Siegal songs and some that were written on the spot. Of the 16 tracks on the album, there are actually 10 songs, together with six tracks of conversation and out-takes, each of which adds to the sense that this album was a lot of fun to make.
The album is entirely acoustic, with guitars, mandolin, mandocello, harmonica and banjo all featuring highly, as a variety of different voices take the lead vocals (albeit primarily Siegal). From the weeping slide of “Hard Times (Come Again No More)” to the traditional Mississippi country blues of “Stone Cold Soul” and from the Johnny Cash-esque “Talkin’ Overseas Pirate Blues” to the New Orleans-flavoured “Only Tryin’ To Survive”.
The Picnic Sessions is a delight from start to finish. If your tastes extend to the roots/Americana of artists like Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault and Chris Smither, you will definitely want to check out this album. It’s a grower and a keeper.