Spencer Bohren – Blackwater Music (2011)

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Spencer Bohren, a Wyoming native now based in New Orleans, has travelled all over, yet still possesses a strong sense of place. He mounted an almost never-ending tour throughout the 1980s, but did so in an Airstream trailer with his wife and kids.

In keeping, the spare and simply put Blackwater Music is a family recording in the most complete sense of the word — with Andre Bohren sitting in on drums and piano, a song co-written by Marilyn Bohren and a CD package design Django Bohren. This homey sense of vernacular makes for a welcoming embrace, in particular on a troubadour blues like “Your Home is in My Heart.”

Yet when the album moves into darker themes — as with the opening “Old Louisa’s Movin’ On” or on “Bad Luck Bone,” with its echoing portent — Bohren’s lived-in authority carries a similar weight. Often accompanied by nothing more than his own Delta-infused guitar stylings, Bohren sings with a humid closeness, like an old friend sharing stories on the other end of the swing on a late-summer night.

He recalls bad times and worse, as on the post-Katrina elegy “Has Anyone Seen Mattie?,” with its lonesome accompaniment from violinist Matt Rhody. He wonders what it would take to right his many wrongs, as a lapsteel curls around each carefully sung lyric, on “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle.” He considers salvation and what comes next on National steel-driven “Borrowed Time” — referencing, again, this shattering memory of a flooded New Orleans: “The water is rising, and the night is deep” — then lets loose another soaring lapsteel moan on “Blackwater Music.” “Listen to the Wind,” which closes out Blackwater Music, laments a land, and a lifestyle, lost forever by the Native Americans. Andre Bohren makes a memorable contribution, adding a thrumming drumscape that sounds like a repeated accusation.

Before long, however, Bohren is skipping along with a tube-honking quartet on “Take Me to Rampart Street,” celebrating a life-saving relationship on “Your Love,” then settling in for a comfy reminiscence on “The Old Homestead.”

As happy as he is talented, Spencer Bohren remains that rarest of things — beyond being one of the few whites to make a life of blues picking. He is, dare we say it, well adjusted.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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