AWEK – AWEK
16 songs – 67 minutes
Based out of southwestern France, AWEK are a veteran four-piece ensemble that do things the traditional way, delivering deep-in-the pocket, straight-ahead Chicago-style blues – something they’ve been doing for the better part of three decades.
This disc is a welcome follow-up to Let’s Party Down, one of two albums Kid Andersen produced for the band at Greaseland Studios in California. And even though it’s missing the presence of several American bluesmen who assisted on that one, it’s sure to please any music fan with old-school sensibilities.
Recorded in Toulouse, AWEK delivers 11 originals and four covers here in a lineup that includes Bernard Sellam on vocals and guitar with Stephane Bertolino on harp and a rhythm section composed of percussionist Joel Ferron and bassist Olivier Trebel. They team together seemingly effortlessly to produce a relaxed, original sound that melds classical blues stylings with the cocktail lounge sophistication of their homeland.
Formed in the mid-‘90s, the group’s built a presence in the U.S., too, performing at top clubs, including Antone’s in Austin, and making to the finals of the 2008 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, where Bertolino took home the Lee Oskar Harmonica Award for top reed-bender player in the competition.
This is their 12th CD since debuting with Back to the Same Place in 1997. It was engineered by Jérôme Cotte at Studio du Moulin in the Toulouse suburbs, but mastered at Alnico Studio in Texas. The only outside help here are Fred Cruveiller, who contributes second guitar on two cuts, and Pascal Rollando, who adds percussion on another. Sellam’s warm tenor delivers lyrics in English with only the slightest of accents.
Recorded in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, AWEK opens with “We’re Gonna Make It Through,” a medium-paced shuffle that recounts watching the news and the horrors that spread, but offering hope for a positive outcome — as long as folks stay together. Stephane’s harp runs shine high in the mix and the rhythm section swings like a metronome throughout with Bernard rising to the fore with rock-solid single-note solo mid-tune.
The tempo quickens slightly for “Bring It On,” a percussive, humorous love song that describes a one-of-a-kind woman who “swears like a trucker” and “has no class.” The theme continues in “She’s All Mine.” This time, she’s a hard-working honey who leaves home early and comes home late. Sellam wonders if the relationship is in trouble, but assures her that they’ll take things nice and slow.
The medium-fast instrumental, “Smokin’ Mambo,” will have you bopping before AWEK launches into a trio of covers — Jimmy Rogers’ “Goin’ Away Babe,” Charles Brown’s familiar “Black Night” and Dave Bartholomew’s “Gumbo Blues” – all of which are delivered in a manner that would make the originators smile. Things heat up again with the Latin-flavored “I Like to Be Alone,” which finds the singer feeling uncomfortable in social settings except for sex, before settling into a slow shuffle for “Wink of an Eye,” a love song delivered with a strong traditional feel.
The sprightly jump-blues instrumental, “Beer O’Clock,” is a harp-driven pleaser with call-and-response interplay with guitar and a couple of tasty solos. Jimmy McCracklin’s “Just Got to Know” follows before the uptempo “The Healer,” speaks out against being proselytized by religious fanatics and do-gooders. Three more originals – the guitar-driven “The Dream,” a vivid nightmare fueled by coronavirus; “Tell Me What’s the Reason,” a jump blues delivered at the end of a relationship; and “I’m Staying Home,” another loping blues dealing with being housebound during the lockdown – bring the disc to a close.
Strongly recommended for anyone who’s loves straightforward, contemporary blues with old-school sensibilities.