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Album of the week : The Shovel [vs] The Howling Bones - Lincoln Durham

It’s interesting that such full bodied and authentic American music should be associated with the names of two beautiful cathedral cites in England, because Lincoln Durham is a walking, talking, wailing, riffing revelation roots music revivalist. His modern spin on the Mississippi Delta blues music originally created by the likes of Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell is a standout in a world full of synthetic and homogenised music created to feed lowest common denominator expectations and playlists

With a voice that’s been compared to Ray LaMontagne and Paul Rodgers, brooding lyrics that dance intriguingly on the edge of ghoulish, and an intense, swampy, Mississippi Delta sound, Lincoln Durham has the soul of an old bluesman well advanced into a career as a successful blues singer/songwriter/guitarist

It’s a surprise to learn, then, that the strangely named  The Shovel [vs] The Howling Bones, is his debut album. Durham’s beginnings in music was as a promising fiddle player, winning the Texas State Youth Fiddle Championship at the tender age of ten. he’s come a long way since then, encouraged by mentor and co-producer, Texas music legend, Ray Wylie Hubbard

Durham’s gritty stylings are orchestrated masterfully from the production of Ray Wylie Hubbard and fellow co-producer George Reiff. Between the three of them, they create a murky mood of greasy redemption set to the tone of a bloodhound staring at a full moon. The album comes together as a striking trip through the soul of American music. The songs are filled with shady characters and shadier motives. Durham has found a knack with his writing to showcase the seedier sides of human emotion and make the despicable and desperate almost admirable

It’s easy to imagine that Durham’s been travelling the roads of the southern states as an itinerant bluesman for the last decade and suddenly been let loose in the studio to record the dark side of the life he and one or two others have been living. The whole album sounds as though it could have been recorded anytime from back in the days of the depression through the hard days of the fifties or in the revolution of the ‘60s but it could only come from the hardlands of southern Texas. There’s a quote in the liner notes that sums this up brilliantly:”Recorded at George Reiff studios using early to mid-century Gibsons, Kays, Silvertones, Voss, Bell & Howells, guitars found in potted plants, cardboard boxes, bird feeders, oil pans, hacksaws, feet and anything else that would make a noise” – you can hear all that in here and it still makes for musical satisfaction but doesn’t overshadow wither his voice or his songs

The album starts with the dark blues of Drifting Wooda spooky resonator guitar driven song whose darkness sets the trend but is then followed by Last Red Dawn’, which if possible descends into ever more deep darkness, tempered a little by the gorgeous mandolin playing of Jeff Plankenhorn

‘Livin’ This Hard’ injects a hard rock n’ roll sound before Clementine‘, a slow acoustic ‘leaving’ ballad with a twist. With vocals at times reminiscent of a young Rod Stewart, it is sung by a man already dead, to the love he left behind and is accompanied by atmospheric harmonica and piano

‘Reckoning Lamentis an excellent mid tempo electric slide guitar blues with keening harmonica that name checks Fred McDowell and Robert Johnson and tells a highly evocative  story of an old bluesman

‘ How Does a Crow Fly’ slows the tempo down a little and shows that Durham is no one trick pony. It really showcases his songwriting ability with lines like “I met a girl white as snow, I turned her a shade of grey”

Georgia Leeis a slow moody slide guitar driven swampy blues with a threatening intensity about a blues woman who wears a tattered dress and plays “Hoochie Coochie Man” on a guitar “blessed by Muddy’s hand”

The lyrics on album closer ‘Truckers Love Song, make it easy to imagine what the life of a lonely trucker could be like and doesn’t lift the gloom but does at least indicate the man in the story has come to terms with what life has dealt him

Ultimately, this is a dark but far from depressing album by someone who is on the fast track to becoming a master of his art. The lyrical themes are fairly typical of the ‘old deep dark blues’ but in a more modern setting. He is writing the songs from a 21st century perspective rather than going back to the old time blues stories and deserves great credit for bringing these sparse raw blues up to date. You don’t just listen to this record, you feel it…experience it. Each syllable and note impacts you. Durham’s made an album that blues aficionados can respect and Texas Music fans can appreciate. Take the pen of Townes Van Zandt and the spirit of Muddy Waters and that comes as close to setting the scene of this album as any description you’ll find

A wonderful album that exemplifies all the best authentic qualities of Texas Music…of American music

Buy it here

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