Fiona Boyes – Box & Dice
11 tracks/44:17 minutes
Fiona Boyes’ new album is a joyous explosion of creative ferment, delivering blistering slide solos, funky juke joint vocals, upbeat jazzy walking blues, and acoustic blues crawling straight out of the Delta. She lays her gravelly blues growl over riffs that loop and wind around various musical themes, creating layered, driving songs shimmering with the beauty of her songwriting, her finger-picking, her intricate slide work, and her immersion in the ways of every blues genre. It’s no wonder that Boyes has been nominated by the USA Blues Music Awards for the Koko Taylor Award for 2016 that recognizes the Traditional Female Blues Artist of the Year, and that Box & Dice won the inaugural Best Blues Album at The Age Music Victoria Awards.
What’s more, on Box & Dice Boyes explores the sounds she wrings out of a variety of guitars, including a 6-string cigar box guitar she calls “Box & Dice” and dubs a “bit of a mongrel and a junk yard dog of a guitar.” On the album’s opening track, “Juke Joint on Moses Lane,” she plays “Box & Dice” using a variety of small liquor bottles as makeshift slides; she then overlays the foundations she establishes with her cigar box guitar with the deeper and richer tones of a National Reso-lectric baritone guitar. “Juke Joint on Moses Lane” palpably recreates the atmosphere of a swampy backwoods joint filled with the urgent sounds of electric blues.
Boyes brings to life the sense of loneliness of being a stranger in a strange town on “I’m a Stranger Here” by using a spare arrangement of voice and her “Box & Dice” guitar. Her vocals match her guitar riffs note-for-note in a kind of scat singing that builds the haunting sense that being an outsider brings. “Walking Round Money” might be as jaunty as the blues gets, but the driving, country blues propels the feelings of happiness and momentary delight that having enough “walking round money” at least for one night brings.
Boyes plays her Maton Mastersound custom electric guitar on her take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” as well as on her version of Chicago bluesman Sam “Magic Sam” Maghett’s “Easy Baby Magic.” Her growling vocals on “Smokestack Lightning,” along with her muscular riffs bring to mind Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” which both Howlin’ Wolf and Koko Taylor recorded. Her slow, sensual take on “Easy Baby Magic” provides a fitting close to an album that started with the revelry of dancing the night away in a juke joint and now ends with lovers burning each other down with the slow flame of loving.
Boyes showcases her canny songwriting on “Mama’s Sanctified Amp,” which tells the age-old story of Saturday night and Sunday morning using gospel singer mama’s amp to illustrate the dangers of using one kind of music—gospel—as a vehicle for another—blues. The song’s frenetic pace delivers the tongue-in-cheek message of the song.
On Box & Dice Boyes conducts us on a journey through the colorful musical landscapes of the blues, showing us the hills and valleys, but never allowing us to rest as her intricate, masterful guitar work and her canny songwriting propels us from one emotion to another.