It might be blues but it’s happy music. Sometimes my wife’s initial reactions to an album are perfectly insightful and To The River, the latest waxing by John Cee Stannard & Blues Horizon, certainly has more in common with the string bands of the 1930s than the urban howl of Chicago. The first of the two covers, Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘Winin’ Boy Blues’, is a perfect example. With John Cee are his regular sidesmen, guitarist Mike Baker and Howard Birchmore on harmonica with Julian Bown on drums and Andy Crowdy on bass and among the guests he has one of our local community choirs adding sweetness to the quasi-gospel title track.
John Cee wrote most of the songs and he really understands the music he’s working with. Occasionally he drops in one of those floating lines that turn up all the time but that just adds to the authenticity of some really original lyrics. The first song that grabbed me was ‘Separation-2’ which takes a series of women’s names and almost-rhymes for the verses. It’s very simple but clever in way the old blues singers were. ‘The Good Lord Didn’t Tell Me’ is another gospel style song with slide guitar and the choir and Julia Titus on backing vocals.
The second non-original is ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, a title that can really turn into a dirge and usually sends a shudder down my spine when I see it in a track-list. Although John Cee starts at a funereal pace he quickly picks up speed and with the harmonica snarling alongside him the song really rocks. ‘The Wretch’ is more guitar driven and ‘Let The Train Whistle Blow’ is – well, you know don’t you? – an old-fashioned train blues with Julia Titus sharing lead vocals and Simon Mayor’s fiddle adding a new texture to the mix.
Finally we have an exposition of the philosophy that “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” in the up-tempo ‘Nothin’ Is What You Get’ with fiddle, harmonica and piano driving the song along and more clever word-play from John Cee. To The River is a fun album but it also has depth and character and that will take it a long way.
‘Nothin’ Is What You Get’ – live: