Louis ‘Gearshifter’ Youngblood
Self-Release – 2017
11 tracks; 47 minutes
Jackson-based Louis Youngblood has been around in his native Mississippi for many years, originally learning to play guitar from family relatives (Louis’ grandfather Arzo was a contemporary of Tommy Johnson). He played as a sideman for local bands, acquiring the ‘Gearshifter’ moniker because of his day job as a truck driver/machine operator, and has fronted his own band for some years. However, this is his debut album release, recorded in Mississippi with local musicians, essentially the same team that recorded the late Leo ‘Bud’ Welch for Fat Possum: Louis plays guitar and sings, Matt Patton (Drive By Truckers) is on bass and Larry Morrisey on drums; additional musicians include Jimbo Mathus on keyboards and Schaefer Llana on B/V’s, Kell Kellum adds steel guitar to one track and producer Bronson Tew provides rhythm guitar and B/V’s. The material includes four of Louis’ originals, adaptations of two traditional songs and covers drawn from both classic blues and more contemporary sources. A left-handed player with quite a high voice, Louis is known locally as a musician who draws from diverse sources and often includes country, soul and blues in his sets. This album shows all those styles but the main focus is blues.
The originals start with the rhythmic “Juke Joint” – “a fight likely to break out as soon as you step through the door but the blues play all night long” – and Louis goes on to describe the place in detail, some of it not for the squeamish! “No Working Blues” opens in similar style to John Hiatt’s “Riding With The King” and the interplay between Louis and Bronson propels a good tune with amusing lyrics about not working because “the boss kicked the bucket today”. “A Big Change” adds Jimbo’s organ to a tango-influenced rhythm over which Louis sings about being told by his woman to clean up his act and “Get Rich And Marry You” is a country tune with Louis and Bronson doing some fine acoustic picking.
St Louis Jimmy Oden’s “Goin’ Down Slow” is frequently covered but Louis approaches it with a funky and soulful slant that works well. Bobby Bland also covered “Goin’ Down Slow” and Louis tackles a second song from Bobby’s repertoire in “You’ve Got To Hurt Before You Heal” which suits his voice particularly well, Kell’s steel guitar blending a little country into the song and Louis’ acoustic solo making a nice centrepiece to the song. “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On” comes from Jeannie Cheatham and is tremendous fun while “Rabbit In A Log” is a traditional folk tale performed in a blend of country and blues style. Lefty Dizz’s “Bad Avenue” was recently covered superbly in full electric mode by Albert Castiglia but here Louis provides a solo acoustic version that makes the song no less menacing. Another traditional song “Seven Sisters” gets a full band treatment as Jimbo adds some swirling organ to a chunky riff and electric guitar accents. A more contemporary cover is Mel Waiters’ entertaining “Hole In The Wall” in which Louis takes his refined lady to a juke joint and after her initial reservations they are still there the next morning!
It may have taken Louis over 60 years to record his first album but he has done a good job and there is plenty of variety to enjoy, as well as considerable quality, making the album worth seeking out.