CD: 14 Songs, 47:41 Minutes
Styles: Blues Covers, Gospel Blues
You know what they say about the word ASSUME? That’s right: it makes an @$$ of U and ME. I did just that while listening to West Virginia’s Paul the Resonator, and his new release, Soul of a Man. I made the erroneous @$$umption that there wasn’t rich new ore to be mined on this gospel blues CD, featuring standards such as “You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley” by Mississippi John Hurt, and the title track by Blind Willie Johnson. After listening to six of these covers, gold nuggets that had been mined many times, I hit on a piece of uranium: “Destroying Angel.” Rare and riveting – and reviewed below – it sunk into my gray matter like radiation. What did it matter if I’d heard “Soul of a Man” and “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” so often I could sing along from memory? Going off the beaten path leads to hidden treasures. With skillful cohorts and purely conversational vocals, this Resonator took me by surprise.
His promo materials get right to the point: “Paul the Resonator, based out of Shepherdstown, WV, has accepted the challenge to bring [this genre] to the world. He has played on stages in Beijing, China, Seoul, Korea, Hamburg, Germany, Malaysia, refugee camps in Tanzania (!), as well as domestic locations such as San Francisco and the Washington, DC area. He was the first on stage at the 2017 River City Blues Competition in Marietta, Ohio.” Clearly, he sees his task as a missionary one, spreading the gospel of gospel blues.
Performing along with Paul Grussendorf are Natalia Cummings on background vocals; Vince “Fireball” Farrabaugh on harmonica, and Jesse Shultzaberger on percussion. Also featured are the Speakeasy Boys: Scott Schmied on washtub bass; Robbie Caruthers on fiddle; Banjo Eyes on banjo, and Than Hitt on guitar.
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the unearthing of that uranium-hot ballad.
Track 07: “Destroying Angel” – Some killers are headliners, whether on paper or in cyberspace. Others are buried in the bedrock of history, and one has to do some digging to uncover them. Porter Rockwell, marshal of Salt Lake City in the days of Joseph Smith, is one of the latter. “The good Lord told him who to kill and who not to kill. A heavy burden, but it always gave him such a thrill. .44 Colt in his hand and a tear in his eye – you saw that look, you knew you were the next to die.” Move over, Wyatt Earp. You were fiction, but Orrin Porter Rockwell was real. “Fireball” Farrabaugh’s harmonica is the highlight here, understated yet undeniably haunting.
What of the Soul of a Man? Paul the Resonator can tell you, through covers and otherwise!