Al Lerman – Northern Bayou
11 songs, 43 minutes
Al Lerman is a Blues singer/songwriter. Like legends John Lee Hooker and J.B. Lenoir or contemporaries Eric Bibb and Doug McCloud, Lerman writes his own highly effective Blues songs within the tradition. Similar to all the aforementioned, Lerman is equally adept at solo performance and full band arrangements, the latter of which is gloriously evident on his newest disc Northern Bayou. Northern Bayou is a laid back medium tempo romp through various rhythmic Blues styles; not a guitar showcase but a song and vibe showcase. Recorded primarily live in the studio with minimal overdubs, Bayou features Lerman as storyteller, as down-home philosopher. Bassist/producer Alec Foster works in perfect sync with drummer Chuck Keeping and pianist Lance Anderson to cradle Lerman’s stories of nature, fidelity, aging, the pleasures of a good life and the deprogramming of institutional racism.
Al Lerman is a veteran Bluesman with a highly personal style. Deeply influenced by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Lerman plays a churning rhythmic guitar and blows an impassioned and fluid harp. He sings in a nasally slightly jive-accented tenor and phrases with an engaging talking lilt. One of the best examples comes on opener “Down To the River,” a celebration of a day fishing. His opening lines chastise the listener for having a “dirty mind” when he sings about grabbing his “pole,” fishing that is. This conversational relationship with the material draws the listener into the house party of “Red Maple Road” and the sole cover, the traditional “Deep Ellum Blues.” Born out of years of solo performance, Lerman knows how to engage an audience and pulls off the feat of recreating that on wax.
Northern Bayou strolls, chugs and hops the Blues. The four musicians, with the help of Morgan Davis on electric guitar on the instrumental jam/co-write “Delta Stomp,” are able to move seamlessly through the windows of Country Blues, Chicago Blues, Soul Blues, Americana Blues Rock and New Orleans Blues. A track like “You Think You Know Me” which is pure 1940’s Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy Williamson, the first, Chicago Blues, sits nicely next to “Everybody’s In the Mood” which could be a 1970 outtake from Bonnie and Delaney or Clapton’s 461 Ocean Blvd. The feel good soul of “A Few More Miles” and the taut major-chord snap of “Hand in Hand” are love songs without being lovey-dovey. The social commentary of “Hand-Me-Down Hate” is perfectly complemented by the 1969 psychedelia of the music.
Al Lerman is touring solo on this new record, as seems to be his main mode of live performance. His effortlessly muscular playing, blowing and singing coupled with his wry and thoughtful songwriting make him an engaging and hypnotic solo performer. It is the handing down of a certain type of solo Blues performance. Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Big Joe Williams – musical acts who were able to enthrall and delight with the power of their voices, the intoxication of their unrelentingly rhythmic picking and the personality they expressed. Al Lerman does this equally on Northern Bayou as he does in his live performance. As Chris Smither often remarks, the added musicians on the record are to make up for what is lost from the live performance. In Lerman’s case this is true, BUT just like Smither’s records, Northern Bayou sTands as its own self contained experience and is a highly engrossing ride.