Just listen to the opening title track and it’s immensely clear that this is a deep blues album. Tread in a little further and learn that multi-Grammy award winning musician and producer Dirk Powell partnered with Dermody in the production, songwriting, and, as per usual, brought an arsenal of instruments, recorded and engineered as well. Powell is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities in the field of traditional music. Just his name alone, guarantees the album will be done down and dirty, unpretentious and old school. Heck, Powell even wrote the title track which gives name to the album, My Dony.
This is the second time Powell and Dermody have worked together, recording the wide ranging acoustic, well-received Sun Might Shine On Me, in 2015.This one started that way too but found its way to being an electric blues album early on. They gathered some like-minded musicians – drummer Jamie Dick and bassist Jason Sypher, the rhythm section that powers Rhiannon Giddens’ band as well as accordionist Corey Ledet and Kelli Johnson on background vocals, all players steeped in blues and roots. Ledet joined in the second round of recording, adding a zydeco element in which he is often compared stylistically to the great Clifton Chenier. Also, the use of accordion, rare in blues albums, reminds me a bit of Muddy’s Woodstock album recorded with The Band, with Garth Hudson often playing accordion. Lest we digress, three members of Our Native Daughters – Rhiannon, Allison Russell and Amythyst KIah sing on one track. So, roots royalty gathered around Dermody, one of the best, criminally under recognized harmonica players and strong vocalist to boot.
This band gets deep. Powell has several good lines in the liners – “The country is the country, and this record was made in the country. When Levon Helm called Muddy Waters the king of country music, this is what he was talking about…It could be called electric blues if you want to call it something. But, it’s a Louisiana record, a Grant Dermody record, a record of peers having a good time. Probably more Brahma than Ferdinand, but, really, it’s your call. We hope you feel it.”
Let’s take a few of these. “One Step At A Time” was penned by Clifton Chenier with elements of Chicago that meld Chenier with Jimmy Reed. “It Hurts To Be In Love” is one from John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers that Powell brought in. “Springtime Blues” from Sonny Boy Williamson seems to be the marriage of Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too” and Muddy’s “Sail On.” Dermody’s original “Real Time Man” has the unmistakable John Lee Hooker boogie feel. “Too Late to Change Your Mind” is a Powell original, nodding to R.L. Burnside. So, in just five songs we’ve referenced eight blues artists.
The rest of it is less in a tribute or referencing mode. “Corner Strut” was penned by Powell and Dermody and features the full band in a heavy, filthy groove. Powell wrote the midtempo “I Can’t Turn Back Time” with Kelli Johnson on the harmony vocal, finding the balance between grieving and moving on. It has one of Dermody’s most evocative solos. That leads into the gospel tune “Great Change” featuring the guests singing – apparently all recorded live in the studio by all seven players (no accordion) with a Powell on mandolin and Dermody’s harp blending well. The zydeco favorite, “Morning Train” follows, showcasing Ledet and Dermody engaged in vigorous call and response “– ideal for dancing.
Dermody gives his original “Come On Sunshine” a gospel feel while the full band does another one, “35 -59” as Dermody and Powell’s lyrics offer reflections on love. Dermody penned the closer “Hometown Blues” with that feeling one gets “when home ain’t home no more.” It’s a classic blues motif and a perfect way to end this down-home party.
- Jim Hynes