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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.
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