Håkon Høye – Nights at the Surf Motel
Big H Records
10 songs, 40 minutes
African American people created the Blues in the deep rural South under oppressive conditions. The initial sounds of the music then were developed and amplified. Artists like Bessie Smith, Tampa Red, Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters created truly unique and groundbreaking art out of their cultural folk music. Then new generations built on it: Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Robert Lockwood, Lowell Fulson and Ruth Brown to name just a few. The Blues exploded across the globe and inspired new interpretations from people of all different racial identities. The music became more and more diffuse and variable spawning new forms of music. Today, and for the past couple decades sadly, many people say there is nothing new being done in music in general and very specifically in the Blues. This is pessimistic, short sighted and, as we all know, wrong. There are legions of musicians all over the planet discovering and interpreting the Blues in their own way and therefore making something fresh and vibrant. A prime example of the vast scope and possibility of Blues and Roots music is Norwegian guitarist Håkon Høye’s new record Nights at the Surf Motel. This perfectly paced blast of an album is a twangy, personal anthology of Roots based contemporary Blues.
Håkon Høye is certainly a guitarist first and foremost. His tremolo laden leads and layers of 6 string work are taut and meaningful. Singing with a slightly detached tenor cool, Høye delivers his original songs with strength and conviction. When not overdubbing his own bass, Høye is joined by Per Tobro and writing partner William R. Troiani on the 4 strings. Vetle Larson handles most of the drums and Kasper Skullerud Værnes honks various molten saxophones. There are a few other special guests most notably Norwegian countryman Kid Andersen whose ubiquitous production and multi-instrumental reach is perfectly attuned to Håkon Høye’s particular Roots stew.
Nights at the Surf Motel starts out with a stomping Roots Rocker a la late 90’s Alt-Country: “Junkyard of Dreams.” Setting the bar for restrained power, freewheeling snap and clever wordsmith-ing, “Junkyard” is a bright fresh Summer storm. Shifting gears immediately with “Stay Awhile,” Høye delivers a homage to The Band. This is medium tempo Upstate New York ,Big Pink, Levon Helm hop, resplendent with Band-esq turn around flourishes and one beat walks down into the hook. Things do get more rough and tumble. “One Floor Down” has big honking sax leads from Værnes. Curtis Mayfield’s “You Must Believe Me” has the appropriately funky early 60’s Motown vibe hitting hard and clean. “Wastin’ Time with You” is bouncy funky shuffle that shifts between rhythm feels keeping the listener on their toes.
Nights at the Surf Motel ends with the title track, the only number that can be truly defined as a traditional Blues. This final slow testament to being sad and lonely is a nice cathartic way to close this diverse and up beat album.
Håkon Høye is an artist to be reckoned with. He and his creative partners’ perspective on American Roots music and Blues are exactly why the Blues is such a unifier and is still so vibrant. Music played with such passion, joy and intent is always fresh and vital.