Richard Koechli & Blue Roots Company – Parcours
Self produced, distributed by Fontastix
16 songs/1hr 20min
The Blues truly are a universal language. People all over the world feel the Blues in different ways and relate them to their life. There is a long tradition of Europeans appreciating and performing the Blues and not just the British, although they certainly figured some stuff out. In Eastern Europe there are so many great Bluesmen and Blueswomen testifying their experiences and none better than Richard Koechli. Maybe you are hip to Koechli, but your humble reviewer is newly introduced. Parcours, French for route, course or career, is a spectacular introduction to this unbelievable talent.
Richard Koechli is Swiss and plays a style of laid back syncopated Blues that shuffles like a cajun line dance and smolders like an intense fire that has been snuffed out. He is a slide master, a cross between Ry Cooder’s fluid harmonic inventiveness and Bonnie Raitt’s intense clarion drag. He is also equally adept at regular fretting, playing with a clear electric sound and finger picking style much like Mark Knopfler. A stellar songwriter, Richard creates thoughtful not overly fussy poetry. Well at least as much as this mono-lingual listener could understand, Koechli sings 11 of the songs here in English, 4 in beautifully musical French and 1 in the “language of (his) childhood” Swiss German.
Blues Roots Company is Koechli’s longtime band. Drummer Fausto Medici is fluid and groovy and saunters in lock step with bassist David Zopfi. Michael Dolmetsch adds texture and depth on various keys. Heini Heitz on acoustic guitar adds a unique layer of wooden support while Dani Lauk and guest Walter Baumgartner lay down deep swampy blues harp. Richard’s wife Evelyne Rosier and her brother JB Rosier add strong background vocals and some songwriting support. But the focus is all on Koechli whose soft lived in voice is understated and a dramatic foil to his nimble six string work.
The most arresting track on this all killer no filler record is “Of em gliche Grond schtah.” This is a slow torch blues in Swiss German that subverts the 12 bar blues with a gypsy paint brush. One doesn’t need to know what this song is about to feel the deep emotional well from which it comes. A perfect crescendo into a fierce electric guitar coda rips this song straight through your soul.
The majority of this record is good time shuffle blues. Openers “New Orleans” and “Wing Ding Shuffle” set the party tone. Then comes “I got life.” Usually feel good songs about life and love fall short in creativity and poetry, not this declaration of clean honest living. On paper a chorus like “I’m as free as the breeze” sounds stupid but sung with Richard’s rusty whisper over the infectious sound of his guitar skittering over the Blues Roots Company defies the listener’s hair not to blow back.
Mark Knopfler comparison does not just reside in Koechli’s guitar playing. Richard recorded a record of Celtic influenced blues directly indebted to Knopfler’s virtuoso post-Dire Straits inventions. The only Celtic influenced track here is appropriately titled “Irish Man.” With Lauk on Irish flute, Patrick Butler on violin and Tom Aebi on uillean pipes, “Irish Man” is a mid tempo jig about the joys and wonders of the Emerald Isle.
Richard Koechli is a musical veteran playing professionally since 1990. He is also a deep student of the Blues. He recently published an in-depth study into the life of Tampa Red. The creativity, spontaneity and whimsy of Tampa Red is writ large over Parcours. This influence, Koechli & Company’s miles of experience and the music’s distinct European flair helped to create one of the strongest and most unique roots-Blues records of the year.