13 songs – 47 minutes
Zone Bleue is Slinky & P’tit Loup’s follow-up to their 2016 release, Movin’ On. The previous album was recorded as a duo, with Slinky Williams providing vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin and percussion and P’tit Loup providing vocals and electric and acoustic guitars. Zone Bleue sees the addition of “Monster” Joe Leduc on upright bass and backing vocals, which adds depth and additional color to their sound.
The music itself is a blend of acoustic blues, jazz and swing, with the occasional nod towards the laid-back roots-rock of JJ Cale.
At the blues end of the spectrum, there is a charming re-interpretation of Little Walter’s “My Babe”. Jimmy Reed’s “High And Lonesome” sees Reed’s harmonica replaced by Slinky’s mandolin (and with the rough edges of the original smoothed out, the angst in the lyrics really stands out). Likewise, “How Long Blues” sees Leroy Carr’s piano replaced by acoustic guitar. “My Baby Left Me” however probably owes more to Scotty Moore’s magical playing on Elvis’ famous cover version than to Arthur Crudup’s riotous original.
At the jazzier end of the spectrum, there are two Louis Jordan songs: “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” and “Blue Light Boogie” (originally written by the wonderful Jessie Mae Robinson). Both tracks captures Jordan’s lightness of touch and sense of humor, while the two JJ Cale covers on the album, “These Blues” and “Riverboat Song”, are also played relatively close to the originals, emulating Cale’s lazy southern groove, although Leduc’s excellent bass on the latter propels the track like an old Mississippi’s steamboat.
Williams contributes two of her own tracks, “Sugar Daddy” and “Married Man Blues”, which are both light, gently swinging jazzy blues songs that fit in well with the rest of the album.
Williams also takes the majority of lead vocals, although Loup’s warm, husky voice is the primary vocal on “High And Lonesome” and “Riverboat Song”. Williams has a lovely jazz-inflected voice that lays off the beat nicely and Loup’s lead guitar playing is melodic and graceful. It is probably fair to say that Williams sounds more comfortable singing on the jazzier tracks – there is a slight restraint in her voice on the pure blues tracks whereas she absolutely inhabits “Blue Light Boogie” and “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?”
The CD release of Zone Bleue contains three bonus tracks, the self-penned “The Story of Sam Maghett”, a slide guitar-driven folk song that celebrates the life of the great Magic Sam with ethereal vocals from Williams, and live recordings of “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” and “Blue Light Boogie”. The bonus tracks are a welcome additional to what would otherwise be a very short album but, given how similar the treatments of both live tracks are to the studio versions, one might query why they didn’t select some other songs instead.
The acoustic instrumentation and mellow interpretation of acclaimed songs is reminiscent of the Unplugged series of albums by the likes of Neil Young, Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton in the 1990s. There is a lot to enjoy in hearing well-known classics reinterpreted in an acoustic setting by top class musicians.