Fiona Boyes – Blues in My Heart: 20th Anniversary Edition | Album Review

Fiona Boyes – Blues in My Heart: 20th Anniversary Edition

Blue Empress Records/Reference Recordings FR-740

16 songs – 53 minutes

The blues has found fertile ground Down Under since Dutch Tilders, an émigré from the Netherlands who’s considered the godfather of Australian blues, planted the first seeds in the ‘50s, producing a wealth of talent who’ve become stars at home before venturing to America, where the music was born. But Fiona Boyes truly stands out from the crowd.

Sure, Perth-based slide guitarist Dave Hole enjoyed a long run on Alligator Records in the ‘90s, but acoustic guitarist Fiona has consistently eclipsed his success – so much so, in fact, that she’s the only artist ever to be recognized by The Blues Foundation, garnering eight Blues Music Awards nominations since bursting onto the scene from the South Pacific in 2000.

Considered to be one of the best finger-picking guitarists on the planet as well as a gifted artist who illustrates her own releases, the Melbourne native started playing out live in the mid-‘80s and helped found the Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society. She made her recording debut in 1990 with The Mojos, an all-female electric blues quintet that released a handful of well-received albums.

With a hard-to-define style that blends everything from Delta and swamp to Chicago blues and more, Fiona exploded onto the world blues scene with the original analog version of this CD, which was self-produced and released on her own label. She subsequently toured with piano giant Pinetop Perkins — who described her as “the best gal guitarist I heard since Memphis Minnie” – and captured first place in the solo/duo category at the 2003 International Blues Challenge.

Boyes has divided her time between continents ever since from her home base in Yamba on Australia’s east coast, touring the States and serving as a vital cog in the Pinetop Perkins Foundation, the non-profit that serves as a springboard for youngsters with a love for the blues.

The twelfth album in her catalog and a follow-up to Voodoo in the Shadows in 2018, this is far more than a reissue. The original release has been digitally remastered with a feel as if Fiona’s playing in your living room. And it’s accompanied by a richly illustrated 24-page booklet that recounts her first appearance at an open-mic night and provides deep, intimate background on each of the 16 cuts. Primarily a solo effort, she gets a helping hand from Mojo bandmates Kaz Dalla Rosa on harmonica, Paula Dowse on drums and Gina Woods on piano.

A collection of ten originals and six covers, Boyes’ picking skill is apparent from the jump of “Blues in My Heart,” an original that features honeyed vocals as she describes the ambivalence, resistance and acceptance of a loving relationship. A tasty take on Leadbelly’s “Pig Meat,” one of her earliest favorites, precedes “She Could Play That Thing,” a loping tribute to Minnie, before delivering a sweet love song to the music in “I Let the Blues In.”

“Have Faith,” a tune that served as a personal mantra during troubled times, follows before Fiona offers up a little fun with “Honey You Can Take My Man” and some ragtime magic with “My Say So.” Covers of Kid Bailey’s “Rowdy Blues” — first recorded in 1929, Rev. Gary Davis’ “Mean World” and “Angel” – penned by Ron Hodges, the lead singer for the roots-rock band, The Iguanas – are up next before Boyes delivers a little tongue-in-cheek hokum with “Two-Legged Dog” and a dazzling finger-picking display in “That Certain Something.”

The original “Hokum Rag” precedes a take on J.B. Lenoir’s “Mercy” and Tommy Johnson’s familiar standard “Canned Heat” before “Hotel Room” – an original that pays homage to the cheap housing most musicians face on the road – brings the action to a close.

Fiona Boyes is a world-class talent, and this release definitely deserved reissue. If you like acoustic guitar work with a heaping helping of personality, too, you’ll love this one. Available from most major retailers, and strongly recommended.

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