BY TOM CALLAHAN
Possibly the most exciting blues news in recent years was made this summer by the always essential Alligator Records when that the label released debut albums of not one but two young blues guitar slingers, Selwyn Birchwood from Florida and Jarekus Singleton from Mississippi.
First, Birchwood. Although only 29 years old, Birchwood plays with a maturity and poise that makes you wonder what he will be like at 59. Switching between six string and lap steel guitar, he is capable of unleashing a high powered guitar attack. Don’t Call No Ambulance might be a debut album but it also displays a fully realized vision of contemporary blues. On 12 original tracks, Birchwood displays strong song writing ability and gritty vocals.
This is an excellent, well rounded album. “Don’t Call No Ambulance” and “Tell Me Why” are hard rocking blues. But he is also capable of mixing in a smooth jazz groove on a song like “Falling from the Sky.” The last track–“Hoodoo Stew”– displays his virtuosity on lap steel. And a highlight of the album is a nine minute slow blues burner, “Brown Paper Bag” which could have been once done by Albert King.
Birchwood’s band is unique in that besides his guitar and lap steel, it consists of bass, drums and solo baritone sax. He is the first Alligator artists with a MBA; the world is getting older and some of us following right along with it. The days of a new generation of blues artists coming straight from the cotton fields of the murderous American South or learning at the feet of the masters are long gone. Birchwood grew up listening to grunge and hip hop on the radio. But then he discovered Hendrix and saw Buddy Guy play live. And he chose the blues. In 2013, he and his band beat out 125 other contestants to win the International Blues Challenge.
For years people have wondered if the blues was dead or dying out. If the music was doomed to become like Dixieland Jazz, a museum piece. Selwyn Birchwood is ready to prove them wrong. Don’t Call No Ambulance is a dynamic, entertaining, high powered debut album. Selwyn Birchwood is the future of the blues. Give this a listen.
DOWNLOAD: “Don’t Call No Ambulance” “Brown Paper Bag” “Hoodoo Stew”