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Babajack are a three piece band from Malvern with a raw acoustic sound rooted in early blues. Recorded pretty much “as live” in the studio, Rooster is their third album and is probably the most enjoyable UK blues album that I’ve heard in a while. I have to enter a caveat here because they clearly don’t want to describe themselves as a blues band, having a style that reaches out in folkier directions, but there is no doubt that blues is at the core of what they do. When they list their heroes as Son House, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton and Sonny Boy Williamson, you’ll get the idea of what they’re about.

           That’s the roots, but these guys want to make new music, so, with only a couple of exceptions, these are all new songs, touching everything from good love gone bad to last summer’s rioting. The original band members are Trevor Steger on guitars and harmonica, and Becky Tate on African drum, cahon (a kind of tea chest drum slapped with the hands) and lead vocals. They have now been joined by Marc Miletitch on stand-up bass; he has a varied musical background, including classical music, and between these three there is plenty of scope to take their music in surprising directions.

            The ability of these guys to make a raw, urgent sound grabs the attention from the off. The Money’s All Gone, a song for our times if ever there was one, opens the album with infectious energy – rapid slapping of the drum is matched by some great harmonica blowing and slide guitar work that threatens to set the instrument on fire. Keeping the song distilled down to a simple message works wonders; you pick up the thread of the song quickly and then just thrill to the groove. They repeat the success of this song with a couple of others that drive along just as infectiously, with the addition that Skin and Bone, for example, features a section in the middle that picks up on Eastern European and African sounds. It all fits wonderfully, vaguely reminiscent of the way Page and Plant successfully wove North African sounds into their back catalogue on No Quarter.

            A song about an exiled mother, struggling to look after her child, shows Babajack in a completely different light. The lyric tells a more complete story and the sound is gentler, more pastoral, with Marc Miletitch’s bass – both plucked and bowed if I’m not mistaken – well to the fore in laying down a warm sound. Elsewhere, they nicely undermine any tendency to take the blues too seriously by writing a song (Rooster Blues) about how you wake up one morning…and the blues just refuse to come. All in all, there’s a lot to enjoy on this album, which is a whole lot fresher and more inventive than a lot of the competition about at the moment. And, for added novelty, there’s the very fine sound made by Trevor Steger’s self-built winebox guitars to investigate. Quite a package, really.

John Davy

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September 2018

The Devil Makes Three
70 pts.
Chains Are Broken
New West
Jimmy LaFave
65 pts.
Peace Town
Music Road Records
Malcolm Holcombe
48 pts.
Come Hell Or High Water
Gypsy Eyes Music
Cody Canada & the Departed
47 pts.
Blue Rose Records
Jeffrey Foucault
43 pts.
Blood Brothers
Blueblade Records
The War And Treaty
42 pts.
Healing Tide
Thirty Tigers
Martha Fields
40 pts.
Dancing Shadows
The Weight Band
35 pts.
World Gone Mad
Must Have Music
David Olney
32 pts.
This Side Or The Other
Black Hen Music
The Black Sorrows
32 pts.
Citizen John
Blue Rose Records
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis
31 pts.
Wild Wild Wild
Bloodshot Records
Hadley McCall Thackston
28 pts.
Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records
Nathan Bell
28 pts.
Er Gwaetha Pawb a Phopeth
Angry Stick
Curse Of Lono
26 pts.
As I Fell
Submarine Cat Records
Ryan Martin
25 pts.
Gimme Some Light
High Moon
Stephen Simmons
25 pts.
Locke Creek Records
Jason McNiff
23 pts.
Joy And Independence
At The Helm Records
Jim Lauderdale
23 pts.
Time Flies
Yep Roc
Kevin Gordon
23 pts.
Tilt and Shine
Crowville Media
Eliza Gilkyson
21 pts.
Red House Records
Boz Scaggs
20 pts.
Out Of the Blues
Concord Records
20 pts.
Among The Ghosts
Thirty Tigers
Melissa Carper & Rebecca Patek
20 pts.
Brand New Old-Time Songs
The Jayhawks
17 pts.
Back Roads and Abandoned Motels
Lori McKenna
16 pts.
Cn Records

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