11 tracks / 39:00
Solo acoustic blues brings the genre down to its most basic form, and if done well the singer and their guitar can tell a powerful story. Riverside Jr. has made just such a statement with Would You, Baby?, his debut release on the Blueshine Records label.
Riverside hails from the Netherlands, where he plays out as a solo, duo, or trio act which performs under the monikers of Riverside Jr., Big Will & the Bluesmen, or Riverside Jr. & Co., respectively. One of his partners in these endeavors is Blueshine’s founder (and killer guitarist) Peter Strujik from The Hague, who helped record and produce this album. It contains 11 roots and blues tracks, with Riverside taking the writing credit on five of them. This record had a distinctively American feel and tone — it is obvious that Jr. has made great efforts to master the genre and make his sound as authentic as possible.
This set starts off with the traditional “Make Me a Pallet on your Floor” which has been recorded by many heavyweight artists, including Mississippi John Hurt and Bob Dylan. Though it maintains its original blues structure, it comes off as more as a folk song with clean acoustic finger picking accompanying his growly voice. This is followed by the original tune, “Ain’t that the Blues?” a song of lost love that is underscored by a slick ostinato on his resonator guitar.
It is notable that Would you, Baby? is a very well recorded disc. The vocals and guitars are balanced and all of the instrumental parts are crystal clear. Whether listening to it through speakers or headphones it is like Riverside is sitting in your living room, and every detail can be heard perfectly. His guitar playing is dynamic and percussive enough that drums and bass become unnecessary. Strujik did a fantastic job of putting together such a natural-sounding release.
Riverside’s love of classic blues recordings is shown in his inclusion of “Trouble in Mind” a tune that was written in the 1920s by Richard Jones, the fabulous jazz pianist. This could possibly be one of the slowest versions ever recorded of this tune, and its leisurely pace takes his voice to the lowest limits of its register. He was definitely not copying the Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys recording of this song! Jr. also takes a run at the granddaddy of blues songs, Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and does not try to make it into something more than what it is – a short and bare bones blues classic.
The standout of the covers is Son House’s “Sundown” which is not a song that artists usually choose to re-do. It features terrific slide work on the resonator guitar, and Jr.’s voice is loaded with grit and emotion. If the production values were not so high, there would be no way of telling whether this was recorded today or in the 1930s; the way this Delta song is performed is as pure as the blues gets.
But his original songs are also very good, and it was easy to pick out two favorites, and possibly they are so special because they are personal to Riverside. “Let’s Ride” has some country overtones, and was inspired by a cross-country trip that Jr. took with his son across the United States a few years back. It is neat that his son, Jonah Konijnenburg contributed the 2nd guitar parts on this track, and he is quite an accomplished player too! “Olivia” is a heartfelt ode to his young daughter that plays out like a folk song, and it gets a little extra character thanks to sublime slide guitar work from Peter Strujik.
All too soon, Would You, Baby? draws to a close with the original title track, a pretty ballad with an uncomplicated structure that conveys a powerful message of love. It provides an appropriate closure to Riverside Jr.’s first release, as it maintains the consistently positive and tasteful tone that started with the first song and continued throughout the rest of the album. Riverside Jr. is the real deal, and fans of acoustic blues and roots music will not be disappointed with what they will find here!