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If you're a British blues guitar player and you can have a photo on your debut album cover which shows three guitarists in the studio together, you've got to feel pretty chuffed if the two extra guitarists are Bert Jansch and Eric Clapton. It's a huge recommendation of Paul Wassif's talent, which has seen him journey from the youthful blast of punk rock to this beautifully mellow and expressive country blues style.
Playing acoustic, electric and slide guitar (with a bit of banjo and dobro along the way), Paul Wassif's style on every instrument slips down like the very smoothest of whiskies, till you feel happily suffused by the mood he engenders: this is a very healing sort of blues, a place to rest your worries for a while. The notes flow easily and beautifully from one to the next and he's one of those musicians who always seems to have time in hand, floating with the feel of the music, never rushed at all.
More than half of this album consists of songs and tunes written or co-written by Paul Wassif and his theme seems to be that when the troubles come in life, take your time, don't despair - and in all times be true to the people who matter to you. In the liner notes, there's a heartfelt dedication to the people closest to him ("without you I'd have nothing to give, with you, I've got nothing to lose") that captures the tone of his writing perfectly. Apparently, Paul works as a counsellor for a charity, Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust, and it's easy to imagine how that work would inform his songwriting, as well as how much playing this music would give him the space to come to terms with the troubled lives that he's involved with.
The old songs covered here include two railroad songs (900 Miles and Big Bill Broonzy's Southbound Train), but it's fair to say that Paul's own songs stand up really well, especially Please Don't Leave, one of the songs that features assistance from Messrs Jansch and Clapton. There's a knack for a beautiful melody in Paul's music, which runs from the direct pull on the heartstrings in Please Don't Leave to the elegant flow of his instrumentals - which have a definitely English pastoral beauty to my ears. The only thing that undermines this album is the reticence of Paul's vocals; it's a whisky and cigarettes voice that suits the music fine but he never seems strong enough to really take charge of the song - we have to strain a little to catch what sometimes sounds like an apologetic murmur, and it feels like there's a bigger voice in there somewhere just waiting to be let off the leash. That guitar playing, though: you'd forgive a lot to hear the beauty in Paul Wassif's playing and it's easy to see why his big name mates encouraged him to strike out on his own.
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