Pat Travers – Blues on Fire (2012)

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You wonder if Blind Lemon Jefferson saw anything like this coming: A set of double-barrelled, perfectly titled blues-rock (emphasis on the “rock”) reworkings of classic 1920s blues with brawny sense of modern menace.

Jefferson’s “Easy Rider Blues” — dominated by a good-time Travers riff straight out of early Van Halen, then his grunting, sexualized vocal — is but one of the scratchy old 78s that Pat Travers sets aflame during the forthcoming Blues on Fire, a scalding set that redefines music from pre-war legends like Blind Willie McTell, Son House, Blind Blake, Bessie Smith, Tampa Red and Blind Willie Johnson in ways largely unheard since the hey days of Led Zeppelin and Johnny Winter. Blues on Fire is due on July 31, 2012, from Purple Pyramid, a division of Cleopatra Records.

Together with organist Doug Bare, pianist Carl Cleaver, and drummer/co-producer Sean Shannon, Travers transforms tracks like Lonnie Johnson’s “Black Water Blues” into something that sounds every bit like looming thunder, just over the far horizon. Smith’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” typically presented as a boozy lament, is reformulated here with the knowing wink of a cad who’s certain to be right back in the cups once he can scare up some more loose change.

Speaking of Zeppelin, Travers returns Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” — featured on Presence from 1976 — to its howling backwoods origins, but still muscles it forward with a sawing, serrated slide. Tampa Red’s “You Can’t Get That Stuff No More” is given a stamping rhythm that recalls John Bonham, too. A muscular take on McTell’s “Dark Night Blues” is darker than dark, sounding at times like Ronnie James Dio-era Black Sabbath.

Then, there’s Son House’s harrowing “Death Letter,” presented by Travers with only the melancholy moan of his guitar as an accompaniment — a stark reminder of these songs’ simple origins. It’s a far-away sound, made new, made loud — made real — all over again.

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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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