Luke Winslow-King – Blue Mesa | Album Review

Luke Winslow-King – Blue Mesa

Bloodshot Records 2018

10 songs – 39:41 minutes

Michigan-born Luke Winslow-King is a guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter – currently based in New Orleans – who has built a career playing traditional blues and jazz music. Winslow-King’s sixth album, Blue Mesa, while not really what I’d call a traditional blues record, is however, a good example of today’s Roots-Americana genre, and was released on May 11 on Bloodshot Records. Recorded in Tuscany, Italy, with Italian guitarist and long-time collaborator Robert Luti, it’s a bit of a departure from his earlier albums (his most recent being 2016’s I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always), which are tougher and harder-edged, and much more steeped in traditional blues. Other performers on this album include Chris Davis (King James and the Special Men) on drums and Mike Lynch (Bob Seger, Larry McCray) on organ, among others

A talented guitarist in both traditional and slide guitar, Winslow-King seems to have chosen to put more emphasis on his singing and songwriting for the 10 self-penned tracks on this album. My initial impression of many of the songs on this collection was that they felt a lot like they could’ve been recorded somewhere in Southern California in the early 70s… with a distinct, early Eagles vibe. The songs themselves are somewhat low-key, underscored by Winslow-King’s subdued, almost breathy vocal delivery, which often feels buried in the mix. Not having heard Winslow-King before, I went over to Spotify, to check-out some of his earlier work, in particular his 2014 release, Everlasting Arms, and the aforementioned I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always,” both of which possess an immediacy that is not often found on this current release. A review of his live performances on YouTube also support that assessment.

Still, I felt that I needed to listen a bit more closely, to see if I could articulate what was, at least to me, missing. The opening track, “You Got Mine,” a gospel-y tune, starts off nicely enough, but never seems to elevate the groove to its fullest potential. The second track, “Leghorn Women,” – a bit of a rocker – has some tasty, stinging guitar playing weaving throughout the song, but the overall performance seems forced, with the rhythm section laying down a perfunctory groove that never feels alive. The title track, “Blue Mesa,” is almost a little too reminiscent of The Eagles’ “Tequila Sunrise,” and feels as if it was structured for an Adult Contemporary playlist. Overall, the first five songs on the album are all decent songs and are well-produced, but with performances that seem to be lacking in vitality. Even the vocals seem uninspired.

After a several spins through the entire CD, I concluded that – for me, at least – the album doesn’t really take-off until halfway through, starting with the infectious, Hooker-ish boogie groove of “Thought I Heard You.” “Chicken Dinner,” one of two singles released in advance of the CD, is a rhumba in the New Orleans tradition, that is engaging both lyrically and in its lively performance… a great track! Other notable songs include “After the Rain,” and the satisfying acoustic tune, “Farewell Blues,” evocative of Mississippi John Hurt.

If you’re a fan of adult contemporary and Americana roots and music, do check out Blue Mesa. But don’t stop there, because if you do, you’ll be missing out on some really great performances. Definitely check out his earlier albums – and his YouTube videos – to get a more complete – and satisfying – picture of what this talented young artist is capable of.

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