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Deborah Coleman: Soft Place To Fall

C. Michael Bailey By

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You Took Advantage of Me. The title of Deborah Coleman's latest Blind Pig release, Soft Place To Fall is a bit misleading because this disc is anything but soft. As a guitarist, vocalist, and composer, Coleman is firmly in the vein of Robert Cray and Kenny Neal. But any comparison ends there. Robert Cray (and to a lesser extent Neal) could only hope to have the balls Deborah Coleman displays on this disc. The Virginia native grew up in a musical family in the San Francisco Bay area, turning to music full time after having practiced nursing, worked as an electrician, and functioned as a single parent. Her resume makes her more than qualified to sing and play with the integrity and gravity with which she does.

In fact, virile would be a great descriptor for Ms. Coleman's music if it were not such a gender contradiction. Coleman sings and plays with a confident sexiness that makes no apologies and takes no prisoners. This sexiness is apparent in both her lyrics and solos. In the coolly urgent title track Coleman sighs, "I'm caught in a whirlwind life/How do I keep up this flight" with a fertile will and intent. Later in "I'm A Woman", just when the listener thinks that Coleman is beating "Mannish Boy/Hoochie Coochie Man" to death, she transforms the 12-bar stop-time with a guitar solo of such humid intensity that it leaves the listener breathless. Her vocal style smacks of Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith, confident and clean.

Ms. Coleman arranges this collection with sledgehammer riffs that smack of Keith Richards without the mud ("Look what You Do To Me"— vintage Some Girls Stones) and Jimmy Page without the murky vision ("Confused"). "Confused" further recalls the Who's Who's Next, complete with a "Going Mobile"-Peter Townsend acoustic interlude. Her guitar tone is full-bodied, fattened with just enough reverb and distortion to bless her solos an edge of intelligent danger. Ms. Coleman is not a flashy soloist. There are no strings of 64th notes plaguing her spotlight parts. She ferociously adheres to a style forged by Magic Sam, Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, one that carefully plays between the lines. At the same time, Ms. Coleman pleads, cajoles, and finally threatens the blues pentonic to give up the purist and most original blues recently heard— The New Blues.

The blues more than any other folk music is smothered by well-meaning practitioners who, in effect, hermetically seal the music with their fanatical reverence. Deborah Coleman approaches the music is an active respect that manifests itself as a seething, breathing giant whose shout fills the spaces between hardcore blues and popular music. Whether it is a John Lee Hooker-meets-Kenny Wayne Shephard "Don't Lie to Me" or the secular gospel of the slide-guitar infused "The Day It Comes", this "New Blues" is in good hands. Honor Deborah Coleman for being one of the freshest voices in the Blues today.


Track Listing: Look What You Do To Me; Confused; Soft Place To Fall; Don't Lie To Me; If You Love Me Like You Say; Another Hoping Fool; I'm A Woman; So Damn Easy; Nothin' To Do With Love; What Goes Around; The Day It Comes. (Total Time: 45:24)

Personnel: Deborah Coleman: Guitars, Vocals; Jack Holden, Billy Crawford: Guitars; Dave Smith: Bass; Steve Potts, Marty Binder: Drums; Ernest Williamson, Jr.: Keyboards; Billy Gibson: Harmonica.

Title: Soft Place To Fall | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Blind Pig Records

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