7 songs – 28 minutes
Tangled Eye released their debut album, Dream Wall, in 2014. They actually wrote 21 songs for that album, but were only able to fit 14 of them on the CD. With impressive (and not misplaced) self-confidence, they have now decided the remaining seven songs were worth recording and releasing as well. The result is a digital download entitled The Other Seven Songs.
There is something enjoyably different about both the band and the album. The band is an American-Dutch three piece, comprising Dallas native (now transplanted to Europe) Dede Priest on vocals and violin; together with Dutchmen Jasper Mortier on drums and bass and Jan Mittendorp on guitar. Many blues fans will be aware of Mittendorp through the record label he runs, Black and Tan Records, which has released a series of great blues albums over recent years from the likes of Doug MacLeod, Byther Smith and Big George Jackson.
The album neatly straddles both traditional and modern blues, for example on “I Am”, which is essentially a 12 bar blues in structure. Mortier’s forceful drums and Mittendorp’s gritty overdriven guitar add a rocky edge to the track, but the guitar is mixed quite low while Priest’s violin weaves in and out of the vocals on top. When Priest does start singing, her lyrics are powerfully minimalist, where the repetition helps to build an ever-increasing tension: “I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I think therefore I am.” This is an effective tactic, also used on “Sister’s Blue Door” or “Posioned”, where she asks the listener again and again: “Have you ever, have you ever, have you ever, have you ever had to suffer?”
Priest’s violin is a distinctive differentiator for the band, adding a haunting edge to the songs, and reminding the listener that the fiddle is a wonderfully natural instrument on which to play the blues. In the early 20th century, the fiddle was a common fixture in blues bands, particularly in the Mississippi Delta (Big Bill Broonzy played violin professionally for several years before he first picked up a guitar). Priest’s playing raises the question why more players haven’t followed the path blazed in the past by the likes of Bo Chatmon, Henry “Son” Sims, Gatemouth Brown and more recently two time International Blues Challenge winner Lionel Young.
While Priest takes the majority of the solos on The Other Seven Songs, Mittendorp also turns in some fine guitar playing on the likes of “Poisoned”.
This is a blues album, but Tangled Eye sits at the adventurous end of the blues spectrum. “India Blues” opens with Mittendorp playing some exotic Eastern-sounding scales over Mortier’s dramatic cymbal rides before Priest’s melancholy, melodic violin and clear, powerful voice leads the song in a rockier direction. Likewise, the droning, insistent single chord boogie of “Sister’s Blue Door” recalls both John Lee Hooker and The Doors.
This is a short album, not quite reaching half an hour, but the band’s decision to release these songs is to be applauded. There is something different about Tangled Eye and The Other Seven Songs suggests there are many more great tracks to come from this band. This is a fine album of contemporary blues with attitude and is warmly recommended.