14 tracks 54 minutes
AWEK has many people to thank over the course of 20 plus years together. Long Distance, their latest album, is a salute to their many influences and their mastery of various blues styles is evident from start to finish. The blues was planted in the United States, and as a French band, AWEK has successfully dug up those roots and reforested the scene with healthy timbers. Although AWEK originated a “long distance,” from the blues homeland, they shorten that physical range by playing like true citizens of the world. Bernard Sellam handles vocals and guitar in a classy fashion without any impurities. Stephane Bertolino makes the harp an irresistible blues temptation. He plays with air sweeping right off of Lake Michigan and can trudge through the swamps of Louisiana without an airboat. Joel Ferron (bass) and Olivier Trebel (drums) keep Long Distance awash in timeless grooves.
AWEK seems to know all the best routes to get to the heart of a blues track. This album can be listened to front to back, back to front, or inside out. You could probably even play it backwards and still get the same unmistakable roots quality. All the styles are played with tremendous feel, ease and taste. It’s not an insipid walk through a field museum of blues history; it’s where the exhibits come alive and dance on the other side of the velvet rope. Bernard Sellam’s resonant voice has a jaunty personality and the tracks lay on his vocals like a pillow. Stephane Bertolino is the type of harp player that any traditionalist could admire, and any progressive appreciate. He’s fluid and checks all the boxes of the blues harp inspection. He gets down and dirty with a classic amplified sound, jumps on the chromatic, and then slices off an acoustic chunk of buttery first position.
Long Distance is a nice excursion through all the divergent styles of the blues. If you like to boogie there’s “L.A. Stomp,” if you want to crawl through the bayou, there’s “Scratch Blues,” if you want a shuffle that you can set your watch to, then there’s “Take out Some Insurance.” AWEK tries their hand at a Muddy Waters standard, “Long Distance Call.” It creeps along like a slow car on the L Train with Chicago style piano and harp. One of the other handful of covers is the nicely done “I’m Gonna Hit That Highway.” It’s in the same ballpark as Kim Wilson’s “Don’t Touch Me Baby,” from Tigerman. Bernard Sellam handles the majority of the song writing, and his penmanship really shines on the tracks “Sunny Sunday,” a breezy jazz tinged blues, and the opening number, “Don’t Leave Me All Alone,” which hammers out I chord meditation that is a little dark and a lot of fun. Long Distance also has some enjoyable guest spots especially on the jumping “She Moves Me,” from saxophone players Jean-Marc Labbé and Drew Davies. The album closes out with a bang on “Jammin’.” Fred Kaplan and Derek O’Brien join the fun on this swinging instrumental.
Don’t let AWEK’s latest release fly under your radar. They’ve rubbed elbows with blues luminaries over the last 20 years and have a consummate album to show for it. If you put on Long Distance you don’t have to worry about skipping songs. It’s the kind of album that you can pick up your guitar or harp and feel like you’re a part of the band. It’s not an attempt to play the blues, your ears will tell you all you need to know.