It was last year that Australian bluesman C.W. Stoneking released his American debut album, and third album overall, Gon' Boogaloo. Stoneking was well known in his native country and this album got him some attention, peaking at #9 on the blues charts.
Only recently has a copy of the album landed in my electronic in-box and after sampling some of the songs I found that while I liked the album a lot, it was quirky and raised quite a few questions that I will need to research in order to be able to fully discuss it.
For one thing, Stoneking recorded this album in a very outdated manner with just a couple of microphones and a rotating group of guest performers backing him up. The entire album was recorded in one take over a period of two days – certainly a rush job by today’s standards.
Was he trying to recreate that early sound? After listening to the album, I’m not so sure. He could have very easily released something that sounded primitive, but he’s gone out of his way to put his own stamp on things and to create a new approach. To me, it sounds similar to some of the sound approaches Jack White has been doing with his recent records.
How Long starts off the album with a great old time sound, almost like those early recordings of Robert Johnson and his contemporaries, although with better mics and some gospel tinged background singers. It’s a very cool time capsule of a song and one that shows that Stoneking is not necessarily looking to make the kind of blues that so many are making today, he wants to go back and find a way to connect with the first generation of players.
He starts out with some creepy sounds a la Haunted House Blues on The Zombie. It’s a cross between Bessie Smith and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. It’s a fun Halloween tune and will pick up more airplay come October. I like the rhythms that he employs for the song and the background singers sound much younger for this number than they did on the previous one.
Stoneking plays some more old-school guitar on Get On The Floor. It’s still got that wild flavor that mixes his guitar and vocals and adds some counterpoint from the backing singers. There’s a little bit of a swing rhythm to this song.
He pushes his vocals a little more on The Thing I Done, and the bass and drums get more of a workout. The song has an interesting, almost Spanish sound to it and the backing vocals are low and quiet adding an ethereal touch to it as well.
The next song has a bouncy tempo. Tomorrow Gon Be Too Late is another throwback to the early Delta sounds and the earliest recordings. Stoneking’s vocals are stronger on this number and the backing singers do a great job filling in and answering some of his lyrics.
Mama Got The Blues starts off with some great guitar and distant percussion before Stoneking starts up with the vocals. He has an otherworldly touch to his blues and his vocals growl and dip into Tom Waits and Dr. John territory. It’s not an affect, it’s his own personal touch. This is a great song.
More good guitar opens Goin' Back South, and Stoneking talks his lyrics while the drums are brushed in the background. It’s a song of not fitting in somewhere and needing to return to home. It might not be perfect, but home is where the heart is, and the singer just has to get back.
Next up is The Jungle Swing and some very hot guitar and eccentric drumming. It’s a wild song that mixes in some strong rhythms and more talking vocals. To me, it has that 1940’s nightclub feel, but with a stripped down combo rather than a big band.
Good Luck Charm opens almost like a 1950’s girl group song that adds a blues singer to the proceedings. The harmonies are tighter and the backing singers get a chance to add more to the song. Next up are some more unusual rhythms for I'm The Jungle Man. It’s a quick song at under three minutes.
Some lush guitar opens On A Desert Isle. It’s a sad lament of a man who was drifting at sea before spotting a place to land. Stoneking tells it like an old cowboy song complete with yodeling. It sounds like a Hawaiian slack guitar adding some flavor to the number.
He ends the song on the title track, We Gon' Boogaloo. It’s a rocking number that takes us out on a high note. It’s been a fun, eclectic album up to now with Stoneking adding a few different elements to the blues to come up with his own unique sound.
Huddling around a couple of microphones with Stoneking, a bass player, drummer, and background singers and doing the entire album in one take might seem like a publicity stunt, or it may just be an honest attempt to recapture the primitive blues sound of the 1920’s. I won’t know for sure until I get a chance to talk to Stoneking and ask him about his approach to recording Gon' Boogaloo.
As he is getting ready to embark on a tour of the east coast of the United States, I just might find myself with that opportunity. For readers in the Mid-Atlantic area, you can catch him at the Redwing Roots Music Fest in Mt. Solon, Virginia on July 14; Chapel Hill, North Carolina at Motorco on July 15; Washington DC on July 28; and the world can experience him at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island on July 30.
Be sure to visit Stoneking’s corner of the world at his website, http://www.cwstoneking.com/ and check out his work and his upcoming tour.