By Rhetta Akamatsu
Full disclosure: I received this album from Fiona Boyes for review.
Fiona Boyes has a new album release, Professin’ The Blues, and on it, she does just that.
Produced by the legendary Professor Keith O. Johnson of Reference Records and recorded at Skywalker Sound studios in California ,this is a perfect match of space, producer and artist. Also, Boyes is joined by two master musicians ,drummer Jim Bott and bassist Danny Croy. Johnson used mostly his own hand-built recording equipment and no effects like overdubbing or monitors. What you hear on the record is what was recorded, plain and simple .This organic approach matches Boyes’ style and her acoustic instruments perfectly.
Boyes, a superb guitar picker, uses several different ones on the album,including 2 resonators, one of them a rare National Reso-phonic, and a couple of acoustics plus a four-string cigar box guitar. Drummer Bott makes excellent use of washboard as well.and along with Boyes’ scratchy voice, the sound that is created is perfect for the blues.
If you are looking for sweetness and light,you won’t find much of it here. Boyes’ voice is more like sandpaper than satin,and her lyrics are just as tough on much of the album. Of the 16 songs on this album,14 are originals and they capture a variety of blues styles with authenticity and integrity, two qualities that are very important to this Australian artist who has been professing the blues for more than 25 years.
The album opens with “Can’t Stay Here No More,’ a song that captures the despair of walking away from it all using just tambourine and drums to underscore the acoustic guitar and vocals perfectly.
“Devil You Know” addresses the value of minding your own business, pro and con, with a cool resonator and sly humor.”Lay Down With Dogs” also uses humor and Boyes’ singing is lighter and more sprightly, using washboard with great effectiveness to back it up. This song reminds me a great deal of Marcia Ball’s style and sound.
“Angels and Boats” is entirely different, a sweet, heartfelt ballad It is a beautiful song of hope in desperate times.The mood then turns sardonic for “One Rule For You,” about inequality and the misuse of power, with Fiona proving how tough acoustic guitar can sound,
“Card Sharp” treats a traditional subject,the dangers of gambling, with an appropriately ominous feel and some gorgeous cigar box guitar picking. “Old and Stiff” is a sassy number that uses double entendre’ to extol the value of older men. This one also uses the washboard to great effect.
“Love Me All The Way’ swings nicely with that resonator sounding icy cool in Fiona;s hands. “Stubborn Old Mule” is pure folk humor. “Catfish Fiesta” gives the musicians a chance to show off a bit on a New Orleans flavored dance tune, before we return to the somber tone with the gorgeous, sparse “If I Should Die,” with that cigar box guitar providing just the right spine-tingling, vintage sound. “At The Crossroads” is more folk and gospel than blues, with a lively tune and very effective bass.
Boyes’ voice and acoustic guitar fit together smoothly on “Love Changing Blues,”which is followed by an album highlight, Boyes’ version of Big Joe Williams; “Baby Please Don’t Go,”on which she delivers a powerfully jerky vocal echoed by the resonator and backed by the steady rhythm of bass and drum.It is a real show-stopper.
The album ends with “Face in the Mirror,” a song about coming down to cold reality that reminds me of Kris Kristofferson in the best kind of way.
This album is phenomenal, as Fiona Boyes is phenomenal. If you have not added her to your collection of amazing blues women,it it time to do so with Professin’ The Blues.