Broadcasting the Blues â€“ Blue Ace #82555
Warning: This disc will dare you to be blue on its own terms!
Gordonâ€™s guitar playing is to the blues what the attack on Pearl Harbor was to a peaceful Sunday morning in the South Pacific â€“ heinous and un-called for; screaming, free-falling, kamikaze dive-bombing; a deadly threat; full-throttle, head-on, and lethally potent; the consequences of which (beyond the kamikazeâ€™s ultimate release and spiritual redemption) are the last things considered, if they are ever considered at all.
With that said, a confession: I grinned through this entire disc â€“ bemused, admiring, wondering at Gordonâ€™s relentless audacity, his inventive outrageousness, and his sheer, brilliantly psychotic abandon. This might be too savage to be music; but it may very well be some perverse art.
DELTA ROW / HOOCHIE COOCHIE MAN / BIG BOSS MAN / SKY IS CRYING / LEAVE MY LITTLE GIRL ALONE / VOODOO BOOGIE / DUST MY BROOM / BLUES INFESTED / STOP BREAKINâ€™ DOWN
NY CD Takes:
DELTA ROW: Vocally, Gordon recalls the late Steve Marriott, the wiry knot of screaming British gristle of Humble Pie fame. At the outset of this Muddy Waters/Willie Dixon track (recorded, along with the next four tracks, as part of a live radio broadcast from KCBS in Santa Barbara in 1990), Gordonâ€™s guitar sounds like Taste-era Rory Gallagher, raw stark, scratchy, and set against an equally spare bass-and-drums rhythm section. Once he launches full-bore into his solo, he sounds like the acid-burning product of a genetic engineering experiment featuring Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck, and in breeding. In the same way that insanity sometimes masks genius, Gordonâ€™s reckless relish may mask virtuosity. We may never know. But the speculation, along with the listening, is wildly and morbidly thrilling.
HOOCHIE COOCHIE MAN / BIG BOSS MAN: In the rhythm section, Russ Greene on bass and Will Donovan on drums arenâ€™t so much sidemen as thugs, bludgeoning out a backbeat over which Gordon conducts his razorâ€™s-edge, high-wire, aerial act. As a momentary grounding in the roots from which this Willie Dixon track sprung, Gordon plays a swampy, open-string boogie riff here; but then heâ€™s off in another dog-fight with himself, ripping the air with flaming tracer-notes for about six minutes, after which he segues into an Al Smith/Luther Dixon, uh, shuffle? With muted chicken-picking, whammy-barred chords, trills, swoops, slurring octaves, discordant double-stops, and scorched-earth riffing, Gordon rips through a couple of verses and instrumental progressions of this tune before bringing it down a few hundred degrees and playing some astonishingly tasteful, sophisticated, and melodic jazz chords. But itâ€™s a false alarm: He quickly jams the throttle, re-gaining air-speed, and ending the track in a blaze of fire and a red-hot hail of notes.
SKY IS CRYING: That flopping sound you hear would be Elmore James flailing in his grave like a gaffed fish on the boat-deck. While I think Brother Elmore would give Gordon big points for interpretation and resolute unabashedness, Iâ€™m not sure anyone could sit still, let alone lie quietly, under this onslaught. After a now-typical slash-and-burn intro, Gordon suprises again, with more jazz chords and some suprisingly delicate and melodic riffing before starting the first verse. As he sings he alternates between artful chording, gut bucket blues licks, and critical-mass scorching. The floodgates come completely un-hinged during the extended break in the middle, with Gordon playing anything and everything you can imagine, literally.
LEAVE MY LITTLE GIRL ALONE: At the beginning of this Buddy Guy slow blues, Gordon does a pretty nice guitar-impression of BG â€“ presuming Buddy has chugged a dozen espressos in the half-hour before show time. He manages more impressive, lyrical restraint on his self-accompaniment during the vocals. Then he buries the tach and dumps the clutch in another top-fuel hole-shot, hell-bent for shred-heaven.
VOODOO BOOGIE / DUST MY BROOM: Like the proverbial chicken-and-egg dilemma, you have to decide which came first here â€“ the voodoo or the boogie. Gordon slings his bottleneck like a demented shaman, maniacally falling charms and curses, while clearly under the spell of an antic rhythm-jones of magical, spiritual proportions. Another seemingly ad hoc sort of medley, Gordon rips off a few progressions of voodoo boogie before giving way, without notice, to another crack at the still-tossing-and-turning Elmore James. Then, after one both-barrels blast through â€œDust My Broom,â€ itâ€™s on to a gratuitous verse of â€œSweet Home Chicagoâ€ before a blazing re-entry and a crash landing.
BLUES INFESTED: This is a rather astounding performance of a tune Gordon wrote in honor of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Since this track was also recorded in 1990 (but not as part of the radio broadcast from whence the first five came), itâ€™s likely Gordon was still mourning the then-recent death of SRV; although, itâ€™s unlikely anyone had any idea thatâ€™s what he was singing about, even in the songâ€™s most overt verse: â€œThereâ€™s a dark cloud over Wisconsin / And everybody knows why / The blues fell out of the sky / Sent tears to everybodyâ€™s eyes.â€ Given the gut-churning nature of his performance, itâ€™s just as likely his audience imagined he was singing about the gastro-intestinal effects of one particularly virulent batch of un-pasteurized cheese. But Gordon doesnâ€™t trade on his prowess as a lyricist; he stuns with his jaw-dropping guitar blitzes. Here, electric and unaccompanied, he runs the gamut from Delta-style picking to a purple haze of blinding speed, from harmonized lines to modal runs, from grinding power-chords to jazzy inversions. It sounds as if his trick-bag just exploded; and heâ€™s just grabbing pieces of shrapnel as they fly by. Amazing.
STOP BREAKINâ€™ DOWN: Last, but by no means least (especially since these performances do not conform to orthodox and wholly inadequate value-judgments â€“ most/least, best/worst, etc.), Gordon uses another Buddy Guy composition as a launching pad for explorations into the beyond. This particular foray was recorded in a place called Luceilleâ€™s [sic], in Universal City, in November of 1995. Given the three people who respond when Gordon calls for the audience to make some noise, it doesnâ€™t sound like he played to a full house this night. If thatâ€™s true, itâ€™s too bad. But it surely didnâ€™t affect his performance. Five years older than he was when the first track on the disc was cut, his energy is diminished not a bit, his reckless improvisations are as boundless and unabashed as ever, and his commitment to his buzz-saw blues is unwavering.
In the end, there is something cathartic, comic, and redeeming about Jay Gordon and his full0alvo assault on the blues. In his novel, A Fanâ€™s Notes, the late Frederick Exley wrote: â€œThough it is indeed best to keep onesâ€™ devils within, one still has to learn to live with them.â€ To conjure Jay Gordon, then, imagine him as a caricature of some mad, musical exorcist, possessed by God-knows-what devils, learning to live with them, and giving us, in outlandish measure, some purgation for our own. When my courage fails, my inhibitions threaten, and my devils overwhelm, Iâ€™ll cue this bad boy up for inspiration and dare to be blue.
Reviewed by Mark N. Oâ€™Brien