Emilio Arsuaga & The Mad Reeds – I’m Here to Stay
Rock CD Records
11 songs, 35 minutes
Emilio Arsuaga is a devotee of Lazy Lester. The harp blowing singing/songwriting Spaniard was one of the young musicians mentored by Lester before his death and the lasting effect of the master’s teaching overflows out of the music on I’m Here to Stay. Recorded at Estudio Brazil in Madrid, Arsuaga and his band The Mad Reeds fully embody the unique swampy Louisiana mix of Blues, Zydeco, Swamp Pop and Country Western that was Lazy Lester’s hallmark.
The Mad Reeds are a tight unit. Creating the flowing and flexible murky waters on which Arsuaga pushes air through his harp and his vocal cords are Carlos Arsuaga on drums, Cesar Crespo on guitar, Marino Orejana on bass and Javier Dias Castillo on piano and organ. Mixing highly effective originals in with covers from the likes of Louisiana harp legend Johnny Sansone, harp Mount Rushmore member Little Walter, and contemporaries like the Austin Bluesman Greg Izor, Arsuaga and the Reeds are not imitating American Music, they are living it.
Title track “I’m Here to Stay” is a great example of how Arsuaga and his band define their voice within the tradition. This song is a simple 12 bar Blues shuffle. It’s easy to make a 12 bar shuffle boring, these guys do not. The secret is to keep the beat popping and steady at a medium fast tempo. If it lags it dies. Secondly the guitar, bass and keys have to hit that perfect balance between unison chugging and divergent counterpoint. Again these guys nail it with telepathic ease. Crespo plays the relentless 1-2 shuffle picking way back near the bridge of the guitar making the rhythm pattern a crunchy reckless drive through the backwoods. Diaz Castillo accents and flourishes with classic organ runs. Arsuago sings about difficult relationships, perseverance and defiantly proclaiming he is here to stay.
The Mad Reeds take on the Fats Domino chestnut “I’m Ready” hits a modern voice within Domino’s highly defined style. Diaz Castillo again showing depth and sensitivity, hits all the correct Fats’ conventions without being derivative. This 2 minute and 43 second blast of early Rock and Roll fire burns with emotion and fun. Similarly the take of Little Walter’s “Can’t Hold on Much Longer” is a hard hitting Chicago burn that is stylized but not blindly devotional. Blowing perfect Walter style harp, Arsuaga testifies while Crespo plays perfectly within the Jimmy Rodgers style of rhythm guitar.
Album closer “Thank You, So Long” is a medium tempo Country Western waltz. Resplendent with pedal steel from Pere Mallen and lush background vocals from Isabel Urzaiz, this original is dedicated to Lazy Lester and a fitting cathartic ending to this Louisiana backwoods riot of a record. Arsuaga moans a benediction to Lester as he rides on into the sunset showing again how adept he is at creating honest and effective music within the tradition. “Thank You So Long” is indicative of this whole album, an unassuming master work of form and invention within traditional music. The music of I’m Here To Stay is the result of years of dedicated study, miles and miles of road honing craft, and, sacrifice and commitment to a specific art form that if not carried on would fade into the ether. We are all lucky there are players like Emilio Arsuaga and the Mad Reeds taking the time to do this work with respect, creativity and artistic honesty.