october 2011

Ian Siegal: British bluesman goes to the Mississippi hill country and kicks ass

The Skinny? This Is The Real Deal.

Ian Siegal and The Youngest Sons do their blues and ancestors proud

By David McGee

Ian Siegal and The Youngest Sons
Nugene Records

Let’s face it: when you get two records in one year as righteously funky, lowdown and exhilarating as Maria Muldaur’s New Orleans-centric Steady Lovin’ and Ian Siegal and The Youngest Sons’ dense, roiling hill country blues-based The Skinny you give thanks to the Man above for being around to enjoy the experience. This publication took up Ms. Muldaur’s achievement in last month’s issue. The main points of similarity between hers and Siegal’s albums is in how both artists went to places where their music thrives in order to realize their respective visions this time out. In Siegal’s case, this Brit bluesman landed in Coldwater, Mississippi, at the Zebra Ranch recording studio, formerly the base of operations for the late, great Jim Dickinson. There he found Jim’s multi-instrumentalist son Cody, who with his brother Luther forms two-thirds of the powerhouse North Mississippi All Stars. Enlisting Cody as producer and percussionist, Siegal then gathered a band comprised of other offspring of Magnolia State titans—Garry Burnside (guitar and bass, son of R.L. Burnside); Robert Kimbrough (guitarist son of Junior); and Bobby Blue Bland’s son Rodd Bland on drums. Those making guest appearances include R.L. Burnside’s grandson Duwayne Burnside (drums), Andre Turner on fife and vocals, Quintez on drums and the formidable Alvin Youngblood Hart (guitar and vocals).

‘…a doom-laden confessional by a down on his luck character whose physical appearance is as threadbare as his future’: From The Skinny, ‘Better Than Myself’

The basic band dubbed the Youngest Sons carries the day behind Siegal, and clearly the quartet’s soul and virtuosity had a salutary, freeing effect on the much-lauded Siegal, who has been impressive enough on four previous albums but really cuts loose on The Skinny with some of his tastiest, tartest playing and delivers one masterful blues vocal after another in his lived-in, raspy, growling, drawl, sounding often like a man crawling undaunted from the wreckage of one personal debacle or another; yet for all the built-in weariness in his weathered voice it also evinces an equal and balancing degree of fighting spirit: you hear it throughout, but it’s especially gripping on the brutal, searing stomp of “Master Plan,” when he announces his intention to insinuate himself into the life of the woman of his dreams: “I won’t stop until I pass that test, to be your ma-ain/it’s my desire/my master plan,” emphasizing the last two words with a determined, guttural snarl, while Robert Kimbrough’s moaning lead guitar snakes through the melody and around the vocal as the Burnside-Dickinson rhythm section keeps the bottom anchored and propulsive. In the dark, malevolent ambiance of “Hound Dog in the Manger,” Bland beats a funeral march, rolling and shambling through on the drums, Kimbrough injects tense, spiky lead guitar lines as Siegal, his drop-tune guitar evoking a Delta starkness, snarls his tale about the lure of an evil seductress attempting to charm him into an illicit affair—knowing he’s the hunted, not the hunter, his singing has the feel of a wounded animal in hiding, fearful and dangerous in his self-preservation mode. The steady, morose bump-and-grind of “Better Than Myself,” with Siegal’s stinging acoustic slide guitar slicing through it, is a doom-laden confessional by a down on his luck character whose physical appearance is as threadbare as his future, plotting his next and possibly final job with “a whole lotta nothing and a whole lot less to lose.” A press release describes the song as resembling “Woke Up This Morning,” The Sopranos theme song, and that about nails it, with the acoustic slide adding the backwoods flavor that keeps the song atmospherically linked to the album’s rural nature.

From The Skinny, ‘Moonshine Minnie’

This is not to say The Skinny is one long bad dream. These guys are, after all, a funky bunch in the hill country tradition, and they get it going in that direction more than once. The shambling “Picnic Jam,” with Garry Burnside taking a laconic lead vocal, and Youngblood Hart adding responsive backing vocals, jukes and shuffles along at an easygoing pace with Siegal firing up the proceedings with his slow boiling, sensuous Allmans-like slide that perfectly punctuates the song’s sensual undercurrent and bolsters Burnside’s sly directive to “move your body…” With the aid of his own stuttering wah-wah guitar, and the percussive gilding provided by Bland’s tempestuous drums and Dickinson’s fluttering woogie board, Siegal does justice to Tony Joe White’s swamp-laden grievance against a female sexual predator in “Stud Spider,” ending in an emotionally charged flurry of gospelized moaning and relentless wah-wahing. Following Burnside’s and Siegal’s Delta-style acoustic barnburner "Garry's Nite Out" (with Siegal delivering a rhythmically charged acoustic slide guitar workout in support of Garry’s serviceable vocal), the album winds down with Siegal’s fierce homage to an authentic silver screen icon in “Hopper (Blues For Dennis),” essentially a tribute to a man who believed in moving forward regardless of the risks—“don’t get caught watching dried paint,” Siegal shouts before tearing into a brutal, pointed lead guitar solo—using a few choice lines from Easy Rider en route to defining the Hopper ethos. No funny stuff here, just straight-ahead, gritty roadhouse blues with an intense vocal, no-frills rhythm section and a scorching, soaring, sinewy lead guitar ladling out its own fury.

From The Skinny, a tribute to a man who believed in moving forward regardless of the risks, ‘Hopper (Blues for Dennis)’

As a producer Dickinson fashions a suitably thick ambiance for Siegal’s blues but with a clarity that gives everything a big, live sound, thus lending a powerful immediacy to these performances. Obviously a lot of good things coalesced at the Zebra Ranch down Coldwater way en route to Ian Siegal’s finest hour on record. Given the strength of this collaborative effort, here's hoping these gifted musicians reassemble for another shot at the brass ring together.

Ian Siegal and The Youngest Sons’ The Skinny is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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