Hackett; Steve: Blues With A Feeling (reissue + bonus tracks)
Prog and blues have never been the most obvious of bedfellows, one technical and infinitely crafted, the other all about feel, heart, emotion and expression. Hence when ex-Genesis guitarist and respected solo artist, Steve Hackett, stepped away from the progressive and classical spheres he was best known for, it was still a surprise that it was the blues he turned to. Admittedly his (from the outside) conversion lasted only one album, but still, a prog guitarist doing a Gary Moore? Really?
The album Blues With A Feeling (a simple, purposeful album title if ever there was one), which was released in 1994, immediately split opinions and in truth struggled for an audience. After all, blues fans have a multitude of their own heroes to worship, while the prog crowd read the press blurb, saw the album name and simply moseyed along to the next Yes, Marillion or Spock's Beard opus… The few that gave it a chance however, were rewarded firstly by the album's class (not a surprise from such a long established name), but also its (admittedly 'white man') blues authenticity and, in an unexpected twist, its diversity. No one should be taken aback that a player of Hackett's ability can turn his hand to anything and yet, it is the love, and yes, feel in his playing that makes BWAF a good album in its own right, rather than just a curio. In fact if Plant or Moore - two rockers turned bluesmen – had released this album, it would have been lauded. They didn't, and there's the rub. In their own way the former two had a voice that fitted the blues like a well worn, lost, betrayed, found again and then passed away in tragic fashion, glove. Hackett does not. In fact has there ever been a true blues legend whose voice can best be described as polite? Well, not that I can think of anyway and Hackett can't quite turn that tide.
The title track is the best example, a strutting, sassy lick grooved lusciously and yet with the 'excuse me, sorry, I do beg your pardon' vocal approach from Hackett, the effect is lost. It's a real shame, because "A Blue Part Of Town" is a heartfelt string (both heart and guitar) tugger, while "The Stumble" actually kicks up an almighty storm. To be fair, some of the material is strong enough to bypass the shortcomings, "Born In Chicago" a scintillating shuffle you simply can't sidestep, while "Footloose" is so parped by horns that you'll be making inappropriate mouth noises in mimicry long after its finished (it's instrumental status doesn't hurt either!).
Interestingly, as the album continues, so the mood changes, "So Many Roads" adding a languid lazy approach, while "Solid Ground" adds a commercial melodic rock edge (and grittier vocal), as its chorus pounds and bounces. However it's through the atmospheric, dare I say, progressive sprawl of "Big Dallas Sky" that Hackett really turns on the style. It's a true undiscovered gem in his catalogue.
To celebrate the well put together reissue of Blues With A Feeling from Esoteric Records, Hackett has recorded two new tracks that reflect the same style of the original collection. Truth be told, however, they don't really match the same standard, the recordings too clean and the use of programmed drums dashing the otherwise authentic feel. Although the guitar playing on both "On Cemetery Road" and "Patch Of Blue" is, as expected, exemplary. Is that enough to make those who already have this album reinvest? I'm not so sure. However if you've never heard Blues With A Feeling, I'd suggest you give it a try. If you like Steve Hackett's guitar playing, or a slice of 'white man' blues, you'll find much to enjoy. You may not be quite blown away, but pleasantly surprised is never a bad thing, is it?
1. BORN IN CHICAGO
2. THE STUMBLE
3. LOVE OF ANOTHER KIND
4. WAY DOWN SOUTH
5. A BLUE PART OF TOWN
7. TOMBSTONE ROLLER
8. BLUES WITH A FEELING
9. BIG DALLAS SKY
10. THE 13TH FLOOR
11. SO MANY ROADS
12. SOLID GROUND
BONUS TRACKS: NEWLY RECORDED
13. ON CEMETERY ROAD
14. PATCH OF BLUE
Added: June 26th 2016
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Blues With A Feeling at Cherry Red
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