C.W. Ayon – What They Say
12 songs – 42 minutes
Cooper “C.W.” Ayon is a New Mexico bluesman channelling the Hill Country Blues of the likes of Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, but adding his own individual personality and creating something wonderfully timeless and yet thoroughly modern. What They Say is Ayon’s ninth album, although this reviewer had not had the pleasure of hearing his music before. Whether you are a long-standing fan of Ayon’s music or whether you are new to it, however, WhatThey Say is an worthwhile release, featuring six brand new songs and re-recordings of six songs from various older albums by Ayon. As such, it serves both as an excellent introduction to his music but also as an snapshot of his career to date.
In addition to writing all the songs and singing in his winningly unaffected voice, Ayon plays a variety of acoustic and electric guitars (primarily a 1964 Silvertone, but also an acoustic Breedlove, an Ibanez Artcore and a custom-built Partscaster). He lays down a series of subtly differing tones through both the variety of guitars he uses but also the way he attacks the strings. He is an excellent guitar player, establishing a series of grooves with neatly repetitive yet catchy riffs, while adding rhythm through a simple kick/snare and tambourine setup. He is joined on upright bass by Felipe Toltecatl and together they produce a mesmerising sound that touches on rock, hints at soul and is all blues.
The first track on the album, “Little Stuff”, sets out Ayon’s stall pretty accurately with its memorably almost-pop riff, and it’s uplifting message that “don’t you worry about what you got left. In the end it’s all just little stuff.” “End Of My Rope” has echoes of a John Lee Hooker boogie while the single string guitar melody underlines the vocal melody. The music draws you in with its trance-like grooves and rhythms, but never gets boring or tired. The simple four note hook in “I Need You Now” is so obvious and inevitable one wonders why nobody has coined it before. The one-chord stomp of “Well I Know” runs for over five minutes but there isn’t a wasted second on the recording.
Ayon has a lighter touch on guitar than Kimbrough and Burnside, and he does not have the same grit and gravel in his voice (although it is none the worse for that). Indeed, there is a lightness and melody to the songs that separates them from traditional Hill Country Blues, even while retaining the incessant and irresistible rhythms. There are hints of early Kelly Joe Phelps or even The Wood Brothers here, but the music is also distinctly individual.
This is an album with very few overdubs. The atmospheric closing instrumental, “Nautilus”, features some tasty finger-picked acoustic guitar, with a haunting background melody overdubbed on slide guitar. Otherwise, it’s just Ayon and Toltecatl, recorded live, and what a glorious sound they create.
Recorded and mixed by Gary Laney at Nautilus Studio in San Angelo, Texas, What They Say is a very impressive release that bears repeated listening. Highly recommended.