Self Release through Dolly Sez Woof Records
11 tracks / 51:02
Ted Drozdowski, leader of the Scissormen, is one hell of a writer. He has written for glossy publications such as Rolling Stone and Travel + Leisure, but more importantly to blues fans he also does a first-rate job of penning excellent songs. The new Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen album is a testament to this fact.
This is the Scissormen’s sixth album, and it has eleven tracks with ten Drozdowski originals. Matt Snow joined him on this project behind the drum kit, with Marshall Dunn on bass and a few of their friends as guest artists. Ted was the producer and took care of the vocals, guitars, and diddley bow in the recording studio, which was actually a mountaintop tent in Pasquo, Tennessee. But this was not just any tent: this was Omega Lab Studios, home of the Mando Blues Show on Radio Free Nashville. The record was a crowd-funded project, and their faithful fans (including Reeves Gabrels) put up the cash to make sure this record became a reality.
This is not a cookie cutter 12-bar blues album, but is most certainly the blues and there are strong Delta elements to prove it. Ted is a creative soul with a vision that he was able to fulfill by making this a rich tribute to blues legends that laid the groundwork before him. This took the form of righteous overdubs and a heavy sound that venture at times into the land of the psychedelic. And do not let the tent recording studio thing fool you into thinking this is a rough cut – Love & Life is a well-made album that should be listened to with a good set of headphones.
The set kicks off with a song that is more musically complicated than what Scissormen fans have come to expect. “Beggin’ Jesus” features the Hammond B3 of Grammy-nominated Paul Brown, many layers of distorted guitars, and hard-hitting bass and drums. The story here is as old as Adam and Eve, as Ted ponders sin, salvation, and the duality of mankind.
Ted is not afraid to get personal and “Black Lung Fever” was written in memory of Drozdowski’s grandfathers, both of whom died after spending their lives in the coalmines. This song has a fairly normal Delta blues feel to it, but it is spiced up with a modern bass tone, scorching riffs and a hearty helping of Brown’s Hammond. There is a palpable sense of a hardscrabble existence throughout: “My mama had no shoes / till the day she went to school / and her clothes were hand-me-downs / that’s how miner’s families do.”
A favorite moment is a special appearance from the storied soul singer Mighty Sam McClain on “Let’s Go to Memphis.” This track is a marked contrast from the rest of the album, as it eschews modern styles and takes a straight-up 1960s rhythm and blues path. This is the kind of song that is right in McClain’s wheelhouse and his pleasantly aged voice on this romantic tune (about a great blues city) provides a nice break in the middle of the action. Sam passed on in June, and he will be sorely missed in the music community.
There is a sole cover in the set, the Scissormen’s take on the Muddy Waters’ hit, “I Can’t be Satisfied.” But this is pretty far from the source material with only a howling diddley bow and percussion as accompaniment to Drozdowski’s eerie vocals. This totally works on every level and is nearly as revolutionary in this format as the original was when it was released in 1948.
There are a handful of songs that were created in honor of some true musical heroes. “Watermelon Kid” uses a cool drumbeat and searing guitars as the backgrounds as it relates the genius of Watermelon Slim. Marshall Dunn lays down an awesome bass line with killer tone while Ted experiments with stereo effects for “R.L. Burnside (Sleight Return).” And finally, the album draws to a close with “Unwanted Man,” which was written for another of Drozdowski’s inspirations, Weepin’ Willie Robinson.
It may take more than one listen to fully grasp most of what is going on in Love & Life. It is worth the effort, as this is the best effort so far from Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen. Their energy and innovation carry over to the stage too and fortunately this trio tours both domestically and internationally on a regular basis. So, head over to their web site to check out their gig schedule, and try to get out of the house to see their live show if you get the chance!