Just when we had Alvin Youngblood Hart pegged as an acoustic blues revivalist, the man emerges with an all-electric album containing roots-rock originals, Southern rock and soul covers, a Chuck Berry tune, a power-trio acid-rock instrumental, a new reggae composition, and even a country novelty number!
Though Start with the Soul
only includes one country-blues tune (and a great one in "A Prophet’s Mission"), it delivers some of the best rock ‘n roll you’re likely to hear this year. Hart is all over the map on Soul
, but the songs are so meaty, the band so tight, and the leader’s guitar work so versatile, only a strict blues purist could be upset by this change in direction.
A Coast Guard veteran who honed his chops while stationed in Mississippi, Hart began to display an eclectic spirit on his last release, the mainly acoustic Territory
. But Start with the Soul
is the polar opposite of Young’s 1996 debut Big Mama’s Door
, that charming excursion in old-timey Delta blues that earned the artist a 1997 Handy for best new blues artist.
>From the bone-crunching initial chord of the opener (the hard-rocking "Fightin’ Hard"), you know you’re in for something completely different here. There’s a riff-heavy Los Lobos-style rocker ("Mano Ariba"), a sensational cover of a Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose hit ("Treat Her Like a Lady") and even a skanked-up reggae tune with some very cool guitar effects ("Electric Eel"). And you gotta love the urban cowpoke lyrics on Dave Dudley’s "Cowboy Boots." Guitar lovers should go crazy over the Hendrix-like wah wah sound on "Once Again" and the searing solo on "Treat Her Like a Lady." Even the cover of Black Oak Arkansas’ "Cryin’ Shame" sounds good!
Blues musicians will tell you that rock 'n roll ain't nothin' but the blues with a big beat. Maybe that's why Alvin Youngblood Hart is able to transition so smoothly to a big rock sound. He receives considerable help from producer Jim Dickinson, a roots-music genius. Start with the Soul
is an inspired mish-mash, and one of the best albums of the year-to-date.