Roots Art Records
13 songs – 41 minutes
Andres Roots is an Estonian slide guitar player, songwriter and bandleader. He may not be a household name in the USA, but he recently celebrated 20 years in the music business with a vinyl-only compilation entitled Roots Music that went to #1 in the Estonian album chart, going on to become the best-selling blues album in the Baltics.
Roots’ new album, Winter, is an excellent introduction to his music. With 13 self-penned, primarily acoustic, blues songs, he lays the emphasis solidly on the song rather than using the song as a vehicle for his undoubted six-string virtuosity. Only one track lasts longer than four minutes. The others punch in and punch out with impressive efficiency, but there is much to enjoy in their stripped-back power.
There are three instrumentals on the album. The upbeat “Tea For Alex” highlights the fine interplay between Roots’ guitar and Raul Terep’s drums. The sleeve notes suggest that the multi-rhythmic“Spanish Run” also features only Roots and Terep, although it does sound like there is a bass guitar (or down-tuned six-string) in the mix. The closing track, “Silver Lining” also includes some bouncing, Louisiana-styled piano from Louie Digman.
Winter is a genuinely international effort, featuring Roots on guitar or dobro and Terep or Andrew Mikk on drums on every track. Peeter Piik adds upright bass to just three tracks and engineer Asko-Romé Altsoo adds “additional instrumentation” to “All In The Cards”. Also appearing are Brits Richard Townend (vocals and guitar), Steve Lury (vocals and harmonica), and Louie Digman (vocals and piano); Fin Ismo Haavisto on vocals and harmonica; Americans Bert Deivert (vocals and mandolin), James Dalton (vocals) and Howard Fishman (vocals and acoustic guitar); Estonian Mikk Tammepõld (vocals); and Latvians Lorete Medne (vocals) and Edgars Galzons (helicon). In addition, while the majority of the album was recorded, mixed and mastered in Tartu, Estonia, tracks by some of the guest musicians were recorded in New York City; Karlstad, Sweden; Lahti, Finland; and Mundon, England. With such a large number of contributing musicians – particularly with eight different lead singers – and the variety of recording locations, it is a tribute to Asko-Romé Altsoo that the album holds together so well and sounds so consistent.
Roots is an impressive songwriter, pitching the songs very much within the blues stable yet keeping them interesting and avoiding clichés. “Morganfield Blues” is a loving tribute to the great Muddy Waters, with the band producing a very convincing impression of Muddy’s Folk Singer band, while Roots displays a surreal lyrical wit on tracks such as “Thanks For Bringing Me Down” where Howard Fishman sings “Waves inside my oven. Rays in my VCR. Urchins on Mars. Voices in my car. Thanks for bringing me down. Beam me up, Scotty. Don’t leave me hanging around.”
There are all sorts of highlights to enjoy on Winter, from Lorete Medne’s dreamy, floating vocals on “Solitaire” to Steve Lury’s seriously impressive whistling and distinctly English singing on “Someplace Nice” and Andres Mikk’s superb second-line drumming on “Karlova Blues”. Underpinning it all however is Roots’ melodic, tasteful yet emotional slide guitar.
Winter is a very impressive release from Andres Roots. If you are a fan of modern acoustic blues artists like Roy Rogers and Hans Theessink, you’ll definitely want to check it out.