Pete Madsen And Celeste Kopel – From The Delta & Beyond
For the past four years, guitarist Pete Madsen has been teaching prewar acoustic blues, with his “From The Delta & Beyond” program being an offshoot of the information he taught, including classic blues songs. This disc offers his renderings of thirteen songs that will be very familiar to many blues fans. Understanding that his talent lies in guitar playing, Madsen enlisted the aid of Celeste Kopel on vocals.
The first five tracks feature the duo, starting with Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road Blues”. Madsen proves to be an adept picker, spinning out a complex rhythm to support Kopel’s measured singing style. The guitarist creates a dark soundscape on the Skip James classic, “Hard Time Killing Floor”. Kopel wisely refrains from trying to match the author’s falsetto singing voice. Covers of “Come On In My Kitchen” and “Walking Blues Medley” add further proof of Madsen’s six string skills. Their rendition of “Key To The Highway” is taken at a faster tempo, as Kopel once again gives a straight-forward performance, limiting the emotional pull until Madsen joins her for a brief duet at the finish.
The remaining seven tracks include a mixture of contributions from Chuck Ervin on bass, Max Cowan on keyboards, and Nelson B. Santos on drums. Kopel tries hard but fails to capture the usually intensity normally found on “Drown In My Own Tears”. She fares better on “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out,” with Cowan’s righteous piano playing at the center of the arrangement. By sticking with a deliberate delivery, Kopel is unable to generate the poignant feeling at the heart of Sam Cooke”s “Bring It On Home To Me”. With Ervin’s stand-up bass leading the way, Kopel cuts loose on “Stormy Monday,” making a heartfelt connection with listeners.
“Trouble In Mind” starts off with Madsen and Kopel as a duo, then the band kicks in after one verse, morphing from a quiet acoustic setting to a rocking pace spearheaded by Madsen on electric guitar.
“My Babe” features some basic harp blowing from Ervin, followed by an unusually heavy take on “Born Under A Bad Sign,” with Madsen’s gritty solo the lone highlight. The closing track, “Mercury Blues,” revs up the tempo with Madsen on slide guitar. The cut also puts some of Kopel’s vocal limitations on display.
The acoustic portions of the project are good, and at times, quite appealing. The tracks that go electric are a mixed bag. Madsen & Kopel certainly have some talent. The question is, do listeners want to hear another disc filled with covers of well-known songs?