Living In A Burning House
Selwyn Birchwood first picked up the guitar at the age of 13; by seventeen he was into Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Freddie King and Albert Collins. Birchwood was befriended by Sonny Rhodes who became his mentor and took him on the road. In 2014 Birchwood released his debut album “Florida Boy”.
Birchwood won the right to represent the Suncoast Blues Society at the 2012 International Blues Challenge and although he didn’t win; it proved to be a positive experience. Bruce Iglauer, President of Alligator Records, was judging and states “I was immediately impressed by how this young Floridian ruled the stage, strolling barefoot while playing searing solos and singing in his rough edged voice. He carried himself like a musician with years of experience.”
In 2013 Birchwood returned to the IBC, won first place was declared the IBC’s “Albert King Guitarist of the Year”. He was signed to Alligator and released his label debut “Don’t Call No Ambulance” the following year. As a result, Birchwood won the 2015 Blues Music Award for “Best New Artist Debut”. In 2017 Birchwood followed up with “Pick Your Poison” and received two more BMA’s nominations including “Contemporary Blues Male Artist”; and followed up with a second “Contemporary Blues Male Artist” nomination in 2019.
The current band lineup includes Birchwood, guitar, lap steel, glockenspiel and vocals; Regi Oliver, baritone, tenor, and alto saxophones, and piccolo flute; Donald “Huff” Wright, bass; Philip “Squeak” Walker, drums; and Walter “Bunt” May, Hammond B-3, Wurlitzer and piano. The album is produced by the Grammy winning Tom Hambridge and recorded at the Phat Planet Studios in Orlando.
All songs and arrangements (including horns) were written by Birchwood who adds “I tell my stories in my own way, with my own voice. You won’t ever hear me on stage singing someone else’s songs. Muddy Waters, B. B. King, and John Lee Hooker all told their own stories. That’s what I’m doing.” Birchwood opens with the rocking “I’d Climb Mountains” and states “with the keyboards it’s like we’re a whole new band with a bigger footprint; I can really stretch out on guitar while still featuring the baritone.” On “I Got Drunk, Laid and Stoned” Birchwood plays the lap steel as he sings “she was out all night, she got drunk laid and stoned…my baby hurt me to my soul, she cut me to the bone…I’m going out all night, gonna get drunk, laid and stoned”.
The title track, “Living in A Burning House”, is built around a ska beat, which quickly becomes unrecognizable, as it’s replaced with some serious funk before Birchwood takes a blistering but fluid solo, followed by a tenor solo from Oliver. “You Can’t Steal My Shine” is a gospel inspired celebration with another insane solo.
On “Revelation” Birchwood is joined by Hambridge who sings the backing vocal before Birchwood shreds his Gibson. “Searching For My Tribe” features another emotive lyric “I can’t take no rest, till I complete my quest…I’m searching for my tribe.” On my favorite “She’s A Dime” Birchwood sings “my baby’s, she’s a dime, she ain’t no six, seven, eight or nine, and she’s mine, all mine” while Oliver plays his baritone sax.
On “Mama Knows Best” Birchwood is joined by the BMA winning Diunna Greenleaf as they share a duet. Birchwood’s best vocal might arguably be the outstanding “One More Time”, featuring a baritone solo from Oliver, and backing singer Cece Teneal. Birchwood switches back to the lap steel for the funky “Freaks Come Out At Night”.
The band is at their best on “Through A Microphone” with the lyric “and the only time I feel whole is when I’m baring my soul for you through a microphone”. “Rock Bottom” is another funky tune with strong bass from Wright, May’s organ, and Birchwood’s soulful vocal and stinging guitar. Birchwood closes with the airy “My Happy Place” with Oliver on sax, as he sings “one-part melody, one-part harmony, a splash of imagination, that’s all it takes to make, my happy place”.
Birchwood puts his own unique spin into the making of this baker’s dozen, “it stops just being music and start’s being medicine… when it’s made with love”. Thank you Selwyn.