CD: 12 Songs; 53:47 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues, Jazz and Soul-Influenced Blues
What does it take to win the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee? Floridian Selwyn Birchwood certainly knows, having accomplished this feat in 2013. He and his band vanquished 125 other groups from across the country and globe.
On Don’t Call No Ambulance, his stunning first release on Alligator Records, he makes none of the traditional mistakes common to some debut albums. There are no lame lyrics, tepid tracks or ineffective instrumentation. Half of the reason for this is Birchwood’s raw talent and the other half is his collaboration with Alligator founder and prime recording guru Bruce Iglauer. The resulting CD sports gems of the finest. That may be a cliché in this day and age, but the ore of Selwyn’s music is gold, while others perform at a silver or copper level the first time.
Don’t Call No Ambulance features twelve original tunes, each one worth treasuring. With him are Regi Oliver on baritone, tenor, and alto saxophone, plus the bass clarinet and flute; bassist Donald “Huff” Wright, and drummer Curtis Nutall. Special guest stars include Joe Louis Walker on slide guitar, Josh Nelms on rhythm guitar, R.J. Harman on harmonica, and keyboardist Dash Dixon. The following three numbers are spectacular:
Track 07: “Overworked and Underpaid” – R.J. Harman’s harp provides a rueful introduction to this postmodern tale: “Today was my last day working for The Man. Headed home early with a pink slip in my hand. Picked up my last check – won’t even clear my debt. Change gotta be made; I’m overworked and underpaid.”
So many participants in today’s labor force know the feeling all too well. Perhaps they can drown their sorrows in Birchwood’s killer lap-steel guitar solo instead of the object mentioned below. Birchwood was schooled on lap-steel and the blues life by Florida neighbor and Blues legend, Sonny Rhodes.
Track 09: “Brown Paper Bag” – Drinking can often create more problems than it solves, as this slow-burning masterpiece proves. Even though it clocks in at over nine minutes, it never gets boring. In fact, it’s like a good bowl of spicy chili: the more one ‘eats’, the better it gets.
Dash Dixon plays powerful organ keyboards as Birchwood’s shredder howls like a hungry wolf. At live festivals, “Brown Paper Bag” would be a great closer or encore performance – preferably the latter. It deserves to have the last word in fans’ hearts and ears.
Track 12: “Hoodoo Stew” – Our narrator had better look out, or he’s going to be the main ingredient in a witch doctor’s latest concoction. Just as music was the hero’s salvation in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” so it is in Selwood’s final selection.
“I grabbed my six-string before it was too late. Before I thought twice, this is what I played….” His solo is just as mesmerizing as that of ‘Johnny’s’ fiddle, and it keeps him out of the “Hoodoo Stew”.
Readers, “Don’t Call No Ambulance” unless you want a prescription for electric-blues perfection!