Al Lerman’s (formerly of Fathead) swampy blues is a highlight of this spring’s blues offerings.
Infectious grooves abound. The album kicks off with “Down to the River,” a song possessing a fundamental force of some significance, and just keeps going. Recorded in a ‘live off the floor’ blast of creativity over two days, Northern Bayou is replete with the guitar-based, good-time blues that one has come to associate with loose/tight Saturday night/Sunday morning, back porch workouts.
Lerman’s hypnotizing boogie band—Alec Fraser (bass, producer), Lance Anderson (driving keys), and Chuck Keeping (drums)—doesn’t let up, pouring their collective energies and soulful talents into the project.
Have I mentioned ‘hooks?’ More than your daddy’s disused fishing kit.
Once past the ‘call and response’-inspiring “Down to the River,” there are “You Think You Know Me” (“But you don’t,” Lerner claims, further offering, “Don’t you know, I’m trying to do my best”) and the boogie-woogie, piano ditty “Dirty Little Secret;” I can hear both songs getting significant spins from edgy radio programmers. The southern comfort of “Red Maple Road” eases into the harmonica jam “Delta Stomp,” a collective showcase also featuring Morgan Davis on guitar.
Comprised entirely of original material save a bass-heavy reprise of “Deep Ellum Blues”—further cementing the southern spirit of the disc—Northern Bayou reveals the range achievable within traditional roots sounds. Several times during this set, including on “Hand in Hand,” “Red Maple Road, and the very funky “Everybody’s in the Mood,” one is reminded of John Hiatt’s more bluesy-roots offerings, a compliment not afforded lightly.
“A Few More Miles to Go” is another catchy number, one with a bit of grit within its execution. “What’ll I Do?” is softer, an enduring plea, and “Hand-Me-Down Hate” is an introspective testimony—“break these chains” that allow generational prejudices to strengthen.
Some months it seems every album heard is better than the one before; May 2019 is turning into one. Northern Bayou is a crackerjack of a blues-roots album. From the first beat, it’ll have you and it won’t let go.