Blind Lemon Records – 2016
15 tracks; 60 minutes
Blind Lemon Records is a small German label that specialises in acoustic blues music and this is Thomas Schleiken’s third solo release. The title of the album reflects trips to the deep south of the USA as well as some of the greats of this style of Piedmont blues: Skip James, Elizabeth Cotten and Mississippi John Hurt from whom Thomas seems to draw particular inspiration. Thomas plays all guitar parts and sings and is joined on several tracks by Regina Mudrich on violin and Thomas Freund on harmonica and harmony vocals. The beautifully produced CD booklet has some excellent photos taken by Thomas on his trips down south, contains notes on each song in German and English as well as giving details of the instruments played, tunings and capo positions.
There are several lovely solo guitar instrumentals, none better than opener “Globetramper’s Treat”, named for an Austrian club where Thomas plays regularly. The relaxed fingerpicking style is quite mesmerizing and recurs on other titles such as “On Soco Road” and “Echoes From Bentonia” which quotes from one of Skip James’ tunes. “Anadúne” was written at sunset and certainly sounds that way, Thomas’ picking here quite beautiful; the title is the Elvish word for sunset (taken from Tolkien) as Thomas felt that the German ‘Sonnenuntergang’ sounded too hard! A tune in similar vein “Blue Horizon” closes the CD on another reflective note.
Thomas sings on several tracks in an almost strangled whisper with some trace of accent. His vocal style is very effective on a track like Mississippi John Hurt’s “Louis Collins” on which he is accompanied by Regina’s stately violin. “Creole Bell” and “Lonesome Valley” also come from MJH’s repertoire: the former has Regina initially plucking her strings to pick out a counter-melody before moving into full bowed action alongside Thomas Freund’s harp; the latter is more of a spiritual song, Regina’s violin adding a country flavour. Elizabeth Cotton’s well-known “Freight Train” has Thomas F adding some appropriate train noise harp, counterpointed by Regina’s elegant violin.
The traditional gospel song “Ship Is At The Landing” has all three musicians in full flow on a tune that is almost identical to the more familiar “Jesus On The Mainline”. Thomas has also reprised two songs from his earlier career in a rock band which add variety to the album, even though they do not really fit stylistically: “Big Boss Blues” rails against the fat cats who continue to prosper even during situations that they have engendered, such as the 2008 banking crisis; “Time To Fly” imagines a young addict who sells her body to feed her habit.
If well-crafted acoustic blues is what you enjoy seek out this album which offers a European perspective on a deeply traditional blues style.