390 pages; paperback
To say that the good Reverend Keith A. Gordon knows a thing or two about the blues is akin to saying that a duck likes water.
A quick glance at the Buffalo, New York-based journalist’s impressive stat-sheet confirms as much.
Over the past four decades, Gordon has penned essays, interviews, features and album reviews on rock-n-roll, as well as blues and all kinds of roots-related music, for publications such as Creem, The Blues, High Times, Blurt and All Music Guide, to name but a few. He was also About.com’s resident blues music expert (a dang good one, at that) for six-and-a-half years and has also authored books on Frank Zappa and the highly under-rated Jason & The Scorchers.
OK, enough chatter about the man’s extensive resume.
Let’s talk about Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’ (The Reverend’s Archives, Volume 2).
What we have here is a nifty collection of 128 album reviews – along with the Rev.’s insightful musings on 10 books – that were initially published between 2008-2014 in Blurt, Blues Revue and Blues Music magazines, as well as at www.allmusic.com and www.about.com.
No doubt it would have been easy (and probably a bit lazy, too) had Gordon simply pulled together an ‘A’ list of blues artists, musicians that even the casual fan would recognize, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Bo Diddley. Sure, albums by those iconic legends are put under the Rev.’s microscope, as they rightfully should be.
But thankfully, Gordon also digs a bit (sometimes a lot) deeper beneath the surface and gives equal time to a host of worthy discs from a stable of artists that even some of the most knowledgeable blues fans may be only slightly acquainted with.
Artists like Seasick Steve, Greg ‘Stackhouse’ Prevost, Harrison Kennedy and Scissormen.
Releases on under-served labels such as Rip Bang, Landslide and Secret Records are examined, along with more widely-known outfits like Warner Brothers, Chess and Alligator Records.
All those and more are gone over with a fine-tuned comb in Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin.’
To be able to hold such an extensive library of so many diverse blues recordings in two hands is very much welcome.
Songs are dissected, album personnel is discussed at length and Gordon is able to explain what makes each record either essential – or in some cases – ones only for the curious to listen to.
He gives the reader plenty of background info on the artists without ever losing focus of the main subject, which is the album itself.
Gordon’s take on Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul (“A great leap forward in the evolution of not only soul music, but popular music altogether”) and Junior Wells &The Aces’ Live in Boston 1966 (” … If you’re not down with it, I can only assume that you’ve achieved room temperature.”), as well as his description of Watermelon Slim’s trademark vocal style (“Equal parts Carolina soul and Okie drawl”) are all spot-on and help to underscore the man’s deep understanding of roots music.
It’s all done with great warmth and with a heck of a lot of what has always made Gordon’s writings so worth the while to seek out over the years – the man’s brilliant sense of humor. A critic that has written for as long as Gordon has (his first work was published at age 12!) can sometimes fall into the trap of turning in work that is filled with sameness, stodginess or is even plagued with mold and mildew.
That’s certainly not the case here. His takes are as fresh and vibrant today as they were back when he was being mentored by legendary rock critic Rick Johnson when Gordon was a much younger man.
The most remarkable thing about Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’ is something that may not have even occurred to Gordon when he was compiling his reviews into a collected work that’s easy and breezy to read.
His opinions and observations are welcomed, to be sure, but maybe the biggest benefit from flipping through the book is that it’s highly likely that it will have you digging through your compact disc collection, pulling out CDs that you may not have listened to in many moons. Either that, or it will inspire you to hit your local record store in search of some fresh, new music to turn your ears on to.
Needless to say, Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’ is highly-recommended reading for anyone interested in the blues, whether they’re a newcomer to the genre or are a sage and hip veteran to the music.
For more information on all things concerning Rev. Keith A. Gordon, visit www.thatdevilmusic.com.