OK, let me put my hand up and admit that, while I know the basic roots and background and the familiar names, I’m no connoisseur of classic Delta blues. That said, I get on with the genre better than I do more contemporary electric blues, so this, the fourth album from Cowley, who, though now living in Brittany, hails from Birmingham and founded the well known and respected Sutton Blues Collective, did go down smoothly. And, as you might imagine from the title and a sleeve photo of him lazing under a tree in a field, that’s exactly what it intends.
Joined by Pascal Ferrari on bass and cajon on some numbers and with Patrice Mauvieux contributing lead guitar on one track, unlike his last album, which was all original material, this has only four self-penned numbers, though you’d have to be a die-hard devotee to distinguish them from the covers in a blind test. The eight covers all stand as testament to the music that led Cowley to his chosen career as a purveyor of country blues, kicking off with Mississippi Fred McDowell’s ‘Write Me A Few Of Your Lines’ (originally recorded in 1959 as ‘When You Get Home, Write Me A Few Little Lines’) and showing himself to be a dextrous picker with a husky, but not gravelly, rasp to his voice. He returns to the McDowell well for ‘You Gotta Move’, and while the song, an African-American spiritual, was around some 20 years before his 1965 recording, it’s his version that’s best known, inspiring a subsequent cover by the Stones on their Sticky Fingers album.
Another bluesman with the Mississippi nomenclature is John Hurt, and again there’s two of his songs, ‘Monday Morning Blues’ (here with twittering birdsong accompaniment), the audition of which won him his first two recording sessions in 1928, and ‘Pay Day’, taken from his second album, released in 1966, following his rediscovery and emergence from obscurity.
Staying around the Mississippi delta, Cowley also draws on the work of Bukka White (‘Jitterbug Swing’), Reverend Gary Davis (an easy rolling version of 1957’s ‘Candyman’), Son House (a faithfully played rendition of his signature tune, ‘Death Letter Blues’) and, of course, Muddy Waters, ending the album with ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’, the song which, while lyrically derivative, gave Waters his first taste of success back in 1948.
As mentioned, the remaining numbers are all by Cowley, the slurred sung, moody ‘Not What They Seem’ featuring Mauvieux on slide, ‘I Like A Girl’ embracing a lazing old school country blues delivery while, again featuring Dobro, the five minute ‘Franklin Nashville’ has a ragtime feel a la Blind Blake and, a personal favourite, ‘At The End of the Day’ is a dreamy, eased-back, regret-stained ballad that conjures a meeting of Mark Knopfler and JJ Cale in some Hebridean twilight mist. I’m not sure how extensive Cowley’s following is (though he does seem to be already making a name for himself in France) or how big a market there is for relatively obscure bluesmen, but, whether you’re a genre aficionado or, like me, a casual browser, Rural offers bucolic bluesy pleasures.
Artist’ website: http://www.paulcowleymusic.com