Album Reviews

Son Of Dave – Blues At The Grand

(Son Of Dave Records) UK release date: 4 November 2013

Son Of Dave - Blues At The Grand

• Check out Son Of Dave’s Track-By-Track Guide to Blues At The Grand

When it comes to rocking a party, Son Of Dave is your daddy. The sometime Crash Test Dummies member Benjamin Darvill sold millions of albums with his former mates from Winnipeg, but he’s long since seemed genuinely liberated from the trappings of his old quirky rock band.

After the group splintered at the turn of the century, Darvill went his own way, without any of the major label backing he would have enjoyed with the Dummies. But here on his fifth solo album he sounds fresh as ever, and – a fuller sound notwithstanding – again shoulders most of the musical duties, playing piano, bass, guitar, beatbox and harmonica, while lining up a bevy of talented guest vocalists including former Tricky accomplice Martina Topley Bird and keyboard player Will Foster. And what fun they seem to be having.

This is not an album you put on in the background as you visit your cellar to select the perfect Cru Beaujolais for your dinner party guests. Rather, it works best after you’ve polished off the vino, the dessert wines and the port as it certainly rewards a slightly unhinged state of mind and ears to match its delirious energy. For the white man, the blues is not an easy thing. But inspired by American blues legends and harmonica players Sonny Terry and James Cotton after seeing them play the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Darvill’s Son Of Dave project was born to exorcise his radio-friendly rock demons and let his ragged barrelhouse burners loose on the world.

Just listen to the 46-year-old grizzled London resident bad boy sit down behind the piano on opener Well, Well, Well as he takes a drink and mutters to himself: “How you play this thing?” as a torrent of keys, howling harmonica and a wailing sax line kick off the gutbucket blues. Whether or not Darvill’s singing should be quite so prominent in the mix is open to question – he does not have the most captivating voice. But it’s rough enough to make the blues sound convincing, while tuneful enough to carry the demanding, upbeat tune through its changes.

Hot Summer Nights sounds much more edgy by comparison thanks to the fresh Zydeco cum hip-hop beat that underpins it. Exploring the lower end of his harmonica, Darvill is content to leave most of the song to his array of background singers as it never really develops a convincing verse, just a super-tasty chorus. But when Darvill does push his voice out of his comfort zone on We Goin Out, the listener is rewarded with his best growl and bite of the album. Following a series of unholy grunts and contortions, Darvill spouts: “All week long we work for Friday night,” amongst a propulsive and tight guitar and bass attack before the bridge twists it into a proto funk workout.

Ignore the strange and creepy-in-not-such-a-good-way Titty Shake and its opening wolf whistle and you’re headed for the second half of the album, which sees Darvill’s beatboxing coming to the fore. On They Let Too Many People In he manages to write some dumb lyrics but performs a masterclass in building an effective tune from nothing but his mouth, breathy harmonica and a dirty simple beat. And Old Mexico reminds that he can turn his hand to a charming old-fashioned ballad when he wants to, combining some colourful storytelling with a lovely dose of piano.

Clocking in at just over 30 minutes you might be tempted to think the album’s a wee bit on the thin side. But during that half-an-hour you will experience the dizzying sonic arsenal of the Canadian bluesman as he often succeeds in capturing some red hot moments of proper downhome blues. And when the music and lyrics are firing on all cylinders, it does indeed recall some of the bayou boogie-woogie charm of Dr John. But the weirdo combination of beatboxing, folk ramblings and the polished funk production (thanks to producer Jimmy Hogarth, no doubt) proves that Son Of Dave can be simultaneously the bastard child and rightful heir of the blues tradition.

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