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Review: Roots of the Blues

Adelaide Fringe

Put together a trio of very talented blues players in a down-home, just-right venue like the back room of the Wheatsheaf Hotel and you get Roots of the Blues. ★★★★

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With the same line-up as last year, but with varied material, the players once more wowed a sold-out crowd.

Each member of the ensemble has a respected history in live and recorded performances, together and apart. USA Blues Hall of Fame recipient Chris Finnen (ukelele, guitar, percussion, vocals) and Adelaide Blues and Roots Association Blues Soloist of the Year Cal Williams Jr (guitar, vocals) were beautifully complemented by the acclaimed Kory Horwood on double bass and vocals.

Tunes ranged across old and new, with a number of self-penned efforts from guitarists Finnen and Williams. It is rather unfair to highlight particular efforts when so much was worthy, but do it I must.

Horwood’s grave, bowing introduction to “I Can’t Find a Home for Myself in This World” was a notable delight. His playing here, graceful and solemn, eventually took a turn so that the song was more jaunty and almost danceable. That tinge of gospel came back later with “Daniel in the Lion’s Den”, which was magnificent – big, loud and earnest.

Finnen is a bit of a raconteur but essentially lets the music do the talking. His restrained version of Howlin’ Wolf’s ironic “Sittin’ on Top of the World” delivered just the right measure of denial in the face of loss. The tempo rose with the next tune, Williams’ own “Honey Child”, which displayed a tight group really enjoying themselves.

Another stand-out was a driven take on Son House’s classic “Death of the Blues”, one more song about losing a loved one. Finnen, Williams and Horwood served it up with volume. It was a different approach that initially seemed as if it might overwhelm the message but their arrangement, full of bristling anxiety as if emotion might spill into violence, won me over.

A show that was scheduled to last 90 minutes stretched well beyond two hours as the enthusiastic trio responded to a keen audience. The blues has quite some power and these guys know how to harness it.

Four stars

There are two more shows at the Wheatsheaf Hotel, on March 1 and 2.

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