Big Bo – Preaching the Blues | Album Review

Big Bo – Preaching the Blues

Natural Records NR 18-008

12 songs – 39 minutes

Since emerging from the Delta a century ago the blues has become a universal language, and there’s no one on the planet today who speaks it as fluently as the early masters as Bo Brocken, a throwback musician who regularly dominates awards season in his homeland, the blues hotbed of the Netherlands.

Working under the name Big Bo, Brocken is a multi-instrumentalist who works in the one-man band format, simultaneously playing acoustic, resonator or electric guitar while providing percussion on a foot-operated drum set. His repertoire covers the full spectrum of first-generation American blues, including Hill Country, Delta, Piedmont and ragtime stylings, covering the classics in manner that would make the masters smile.

His introduction to the music came as a child through his parents’ love for John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. He’s been playing guitar since age 12 and performing in public since he was 17. He’s a stylish fingerpicker with a soulful, slightly raw voice who’s been entertaining audiences across Europe since the ‘80s.

A 2015 winner in the solo/duo category at the Dutch Blues Challenge, he made it to the semi-finals at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis the following winter. His 2015 CD, Preaching the Blues, captured top honors in the Dutch Blues Awards, and, most recently, he was nominated for four trophies – best blues act, best blues musician, audience favorite and special achievement – last year – high praise considering the quality of his competition.

Like its predecessor, this album is a prize-winner, too. It was recorded in mono at Uncle Larson’s Studio in The Hague, using a single vintage BBC-AXB microphone, and the sound quality is sensational throughout. A collection of 12 familiar covers that are delivered with reverence and enthusiasm, the set opens with Robert Johnson’s “Preaching Blues.” Big Bo sings in perfectly unaccented English, and his playing style features skillful octave jumps on the six-string.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Going Over the Hill” follows before Big Bo dips into the catalog of Jazz Age superstar Chippie Hill for her 1924 hit, “Trouble in Mind.” Next up is Bukka White’s cautionary “Sic ‘em Dogs On,” before the set shifts gears for a take on Blind Willie Johnson’s familiar “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.”

Bessie Smith’s ballad, “Back Water Blues,” follows, yielding to Charley Patton’s Hill Country pleaser, “Mississippi Boweavil Blues,” Blind Willie McTell’s “Southern Can Is Mine” and Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues.” Three more pleasers — the traditional “Pallet on the Floor,” Blind Willie’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond” and Skip James’ often overlooked “Look at the People Standing at the Judgement” – bring the action to a close.

If your tastes are deep old-school, you’ll enjoy this one. Like Traveling Riverside – which is its equal, it’s available direct from the artist (address above) with multiple payment options, including Paypal.

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