Voodoo in the Shadows
Reference Recordings/Blue Empress
Fiona Boyes has been Australia’s foremost blues artist for over two decades now. She spends considerable time in the states touring and she’s earned six BMA nominations, including Acoustic Album of the Year and Best Acoustic Artist in 2017. Her career trajectory continues to rise, and Voodoo in the Shadows, with its band accompaniment could be her strongest album yet.
It’s a deep dive into the music of the South. Boyes, the singer-songwriter/guitarist, self-produced it and offers nine originals of the 11 tracks. These songs are like a back roads journey from Memphis, through Mississippi, New Orleans and other Gulf locales. Along the way we hear respect to blues originators, mystery, sensuality, attitude and love. The title phrase “in the shadows” refers to the special places where the spirt world and the real world commingle, be it a small town, juke joint, or back road along the ‘Blues Trail. ’In the liners Fiona recounts some special moments along this journey. “Like the chance to play a battered old guitar owned by Jessie Mae Hemphill, complete with a bullet hole right through it! Revisiting iconic Red’s Lounge, and other cool places in Clarksdale. Playing at Teddy’s Juke in Zachary, LA and Blue Monday jamming with King Edward Antoine at Hal & Mal’s in Jackson, MS.”
She’s joined by two Australians, multi-instrumentalist Tim Neal (Hammond B3, piano, bass, and baritone sax), and drummer/percussionist Mark Gruden. Adding to this duo is the widely acclaimed Crescent City’s Johnny Sansone on harmonica and accordion. Fiona plays an array of guitars: 6-string Maton, three cigar-box instruments and her rare baritone National Reso-lectric. Given the variety of her guitars and the versatility of the other players, it makes for diverse instrumentation.
She also relates that aside from two written by other writers, “Dark and Dangerous Love”( J. Rene Coman) was in the repertoire of her first band, and “With a Little Respect”( Gary Vincent) was written for a songwriting competition back in 2007. She comments, “Although memory is sketchy, I think the theme that year was ‘Songs of Tolerance.’ More than a decade later, it still seems timely.”
Boyes invokes Blind Willie Johnson’s “The Soul of a Man” in her opening “Call Their Name.” Sansone’s blues harp colors the rousing “Party at Red’s” and “When You Put on Me’ while the guitars crunch out funky lines. “Dark and Dangerous Love” introduces the B3 and has a torchy, jazzy vibe, unlike its three predecessors. The ballad-like “Little Things” has Fiona finding enjoyment in the small things, as Neal shifts to piano and Fiona delivers melodic guitar. You can feel the voodoo vibe in the smoldering grooves of “New Orleans,” as we get more piano soloing.
Sansone’s accordion taps into zydeco for the briskly rendered “Don’t Leave Your Feet Alone,” with Fiona’s guitar solo proving she’s at ease with that groove too. “I Ain’t Fooling” has a nasty strut to it with Fiona’s gutty growl and slide carrying the tune. Organ, baritone sax, and blues harp meld with Fiona’s soulful guitar for some R&B on “With a Little Respect.” “Tell Your Story Walking” is full of Delta blues riffs, and as is characteristic of Boyes’ guitar style, it rings with bent and sustained, reverberating notes. The closing “Ember” brings in the B3, returning to a Memphis R&B slow groove as Fiona lays down a deliberate one-note-at-a-time solo.
This is among Fiona Boyes’ best albums due to the changing instrumentation and styles. She’s convincing in her deep understanding of the idioms, singing emotively, and playing mostly in the pocket rather than trying to dazzle with her guitar soloing. The words “voodoo” and “shadows” usually connote darkness, but this album shines brightly throughout.
- Jim Hynes