As an old student of the celestial sciences, I love the fact that Jim Roberts, along with his group collectively known as The Resonants, named their latest album, Beneath The Blood Moon, after an astronomical occurrence. A “Blood Moon” is the name given to the moon, when seen through an eclipse and the earth’s atmosphere and reflected light makes it appear reddish in color.
Of course, it can also refer to those other times when the moon appears to be red, when we tend to believe such times are evil. Those are the dark times when everything seems to go wrong and each shadow has the potential of danger. And in the world of the blues, those times seem to be all around us.
Jim Roberts is an interesting guy. He was doing great things in his early career back in the 1970’s-80’s. He was appearing with some well-known performers and then he walked away in order to concentrate on the most important job anyone can ever undertake, raising a family. He spent years working a straight job, but the desire to perform never really goes away.
Fast forward a few years, he retires from the straight job, picks up his guitar and starts back in. One great thing about roots music, it will always welcome you back if you are ready to give it your heart and soul. Roberts obviously has.
Aside from playing the cigar-box and slide guitars, Roberts wrote seven of the songs solo and the remaining three he co-wrote with some of his musical partners. He’s joined by Mike Harvey on drums and percussion; and Rick Hollander and Tony Jack Grigsby split the bass duties. Special guests include Grant Cihlar on slide guitar for one song; Nathan Rivera on accordion for one song; Felix Flanagan on harmonica for one song; and the ever-busy Mike Finnigan plays Hammond B3 on three songs and piano on one.
Some wicked guitar kicks off the title track, Beneath The Blood Moon. Roberts must have some Southern roots, because the song is steeped in the swamp and creates a very cool picture. The stripped down sound of The Resonants is augmented by Finnigan’s B3 work. Yeah, I think this is going to be a very cool album.
We’re still in the swamp for the next song, Dog Done Bit My Baby, and I have the feeling we’re going to be there more times than not. That’s okay by me. The lyrics are decent and Roberts delivery is spot-on, but it’s the guitar work by him (and also Grant Cihlar on this song) that really sets it apart. There are no fancy frills on these titles, it’s just get down blues through and through.
Next up is Tupelo Fool, a song that adds a little funk to the swamp. It expands the band’s style a little and gives the proceedings a different feel. This one doesn’t rely as heavily on the slide or cigar-box guitar that Roberts likes to employ.
They follow up with Bayou Beau, complete with the sounds of crickets welcoming us to their home. Can you get swampier than that? When Roberts fires up his guitar the song takes off. His voice is gravel rough and you can feel the Spanish Moss hanging from the trees on this one. Very cool song.
Nathan Rivera spices up May All Your Regrets Be Small with some nice accordion. It’s a quiet song, one that moves a little inland from the swamp while still retaining the local flavor. It’s a beautiful ballad, not a traditional blues number but one that relies on some great vocals. A terrific song written by a son who became a father and remembered the best advice he received.
Gold Train Fever starts out slow but begins to build immediately. Roberts’ voice takes on a different sound for the song. It sounds like he’s using a different kind of microphone at first, but when he starts telling the story of a man who feels that the best way he has to take care of his family is by doing something he knows is wrong, his persona changes. There’s a real tension in the song and it’s very cool, not the usual kind of song one hears these days.
Mike Finnigan adds some organ to the next song, Red Lips And High Heels. The organ adds an air of gospel solemnity to the song while Roberts plays against it with his guitar. Finnigan then switches to some barrelhouse piano to make the song swing. There are some interesting choices on this song and it made me sit up and listen to the story to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
Southern Hospitality has got some nice guitar and the lyrics are an expression of one of the south’s best known traits. Being southern is not just a result of geographic location but also of indoctrination. Hospitality is ingrained and for most it’s a true way of life. Others just use the veneer in order to hide the blackness in their heart. Here, Roberts is clearly in the former camp – his roots are showing, and in a good way…
The next song, Dark Down In The Delta, starts off low and with a feel of menace. Sometimes there is danger lurking in the shadows and there are those things in the South that can take a man’s soul. It’s not all waves from the front porch, it’s also the evil in a man’s soul that can strike at a moment’s notice. Great song for creating an uneasy feeling and capturing those things we don’t often like to talk about.
Roberts and company bring the album to a close with The Hell Hound’s Due. We started out in the darkness and with these last two songs, we’ll go out the same way. It’s a great way to bookend the album, evoking one of Robert Johnson’s best known songs while creating a new swampy number to add to the Southern Blues repertoire. It’s a great song, one I hope to hear getting some serious airplay.
Jim Roberts And The Resonants are a breath of fresh swampy air. That may seem like a contradiction if you’ve ever breathed in swamp air, but there’s a feeling in a swamp. Humidity hands in the air and the place seems alive with insects and animals that dare you to invade their world. It can be a harsh place, but also a beautiful one.
Roberts knows both the beauty and the danger and it comes through in his music. He makes great use of his slide guitar and cigar-box guitar to create a mood unlike most other performers I’ve encountered. I like it a lot, but I recognize that it may not be to everyone’s taste. I suggest you head to his website, https://www.jimrobertsandtheresonants.com/, and listen to the song he has posted to see if it’s your cup of moonshine. If you like it as much as I did, hunt down the album at one of the usual outlets and get yourself a copy.