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Collard Greens & Gravy

Collard Greens & Gravy - Collard Greens & Gravy

Collard Greens & Gravy is a trio (before you ask, No, Ian Collard's colleagues are not called Greens and Gravy ;-) Ian is on vocals and harmonica (mostly amplified, but a few acoustic tracks), James Bridges on guitar (and slide guitar) and Anthony Shortte on drums and percussions.

The thing that strikes me most about this release is that, unlike a great majority of records issued (in the blues genre or otherwise), it has a genuine feel, an atmosphere that pervades the whole record. In other words, when you play that record, it's very difficult to listen to it analytically. It is a very dark and haunting record, it has a kind of mean edge to it, not unlike some of the eeriest Robert Johnson stuff, although using different tools.

This is the result of an unusual repertoire and unusual arrangements, as well as an obvious implication of the sound engineers to get that very special feeling. There's a lot of silence, a lot of notes hanging in the air rather than being smothered by the next note, there a bit of reverb, and there's sparse drumming and guitar playing when needed. The closest thing I have on record in terms of atmosphere would be Low Rock bands like Morphine or its harp-full ancestor Treat her Right. I don't know if the term Low Blues has been coined yet, but if not, Ian and his colleagues have maybe brought upon a new genre...

Ian's playing is mature and well mastered, featuring both speed and power when required and gentle somberness on darker tracks. At times, it reminds me a little of Steve Guyger's playing on "Past Life" although it's not as "traditional". Ian uses overblows (especially the minor third on overblow six) to great effect even though it is sometimes slightly out of tune. I hard a hard time working out if that was deliberate or not, since it has a certain unsettling effect that is in fact quite pleasant.

In terms of repertoire, even though there are a few covers here, most of them are of obscure pre-war recordings, apart from St James Infirmary. Nothing you're likely to have heard if your interests don't lie specifically in that direction. Covers and originals alike are fully the band's own though, and have been reinterpreted with great arrangements. It is quite uncanny how low James' guitar sounds in the absence of a bass. Anthony's drumming has a primitive feel to it, as featured on the solo in "Out in the desert" that sounds positively tribal.

Moments of greatness are aplenty in this record, my personal favourite being the interpretation of "Get right church", very moody, and featuring a long unaccompanied harp solo of great facture. The aforementioned "Out in the desert" is also a nice piece of work, as is the funeral sounding "Sick bed blues", with Ian on high pitched vocals and chromatic harp.

All in all, Collard Greens and Gravy is undoubtedly one of the most startingly original and enjoyable blues releases I have heard in quite a while. It may not be suited to all tastes, since it has a somber edge and is not the kind of blues that will bring a happy smile to your face. It is more expressive and meaningful than a lot of stuff that gets released these days though. I can only recommend blues fans out there to check out the band's web site, listen to the mp3s there and purchase the album if you like it. Chances are you will !

Benoît Felten

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