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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1557

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Kelly Carmichael: Queen Fareena
by George Graham

(Dogstreet 3 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/4/2009)

The blues revival shows no signs of diminishing, but most performers on the scene these days tend to hew to a few specific varieties, such as Chicago style electric blues, the Memphis style, as well as well as the acoustic rural blues. This week we have a new recording by a gentleman who draws on a kind of string-band and novelty blues style that existed in the early part of the 20th Century. He is Kelly Carmichael, and his new CD is called Queen Fareena.

Kelly Carmichael has a somewhat unlikely background for the music he plays. He was born some 41 years ago in Murphreesboro, Tennessee, but grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia. His main musical exposure as a youth was this father's Fifties rock and roll records. He started attracting attention playing guitar in a couple of heavy metal bands, Internal Void and Pentagram USA. But in the early 1908s, he discovered the blues after he moved to Fredricksburg, Maryland, where he heard some Robert Johnson records, and he was hooked. He took up a variety of instruments appropriate for the style including a six-string banjo, some xylophone, plus conventional and resonator acoustic guitars. On his new second solo blues CD, he is joined by a band that evokes the sound of old novelty recordings, and shows a good deal of New Orleans influence at times. They include a couple of horns, fiddle and accordion, as well as acoustic bass and drum set, and they arrange themselves into various combinations on the tracks. The material is mostly traditional tunes, or songs by known composers such as Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt, that they are old enough be be thought of as traditional. Everyone sounds as if they are having a good time, and in the process, they sound rather authentic, despite the occasional quirky combination of instrumentation. But it's a fun record througout.

Things get under way with one of those old songs that could be traditional, Richland Women Blues, which Carmichael attributes to Mississipppi John Hurt. The track sets the pace for what is to follow. The marching-band influenced rhythm provided by drummer Jean-Paul Gaster hints of New Orleans, as does the accordion. <<>>

Also implying old jazz is She's Funny That Way, which is attributed to the Rev. Gary Davis. Trumpet man Scott Rich and trombonist John McVey are featured prominently providing more than a hint of Dixieland. <<>>

One of the familiar blues songs that Kelly Carmichael and band address on the CD is the Robert Johnson standard Last Fair Deal Goin' Down. It's given more of a country blues sound, with the resonator guitar and fiddle featured prominently. <<>>

There are a couple of instrumentals on Queen Fareena, both of which hint at a bygone era. Cincinnati Flow Rag, also by Rev. Gary Davis, gives the band a chance to stretch out with their combination of rural blues and early New Orleans jazz. <<>>

There are only two originals songs by Carmichael on the CD. One of them is the title track, Queen Fareena, the story of an imagined Mississippi riverboat that was a brothel. <<>> The track ends with a nice touch, bit of steam calliope music from an actual riverboat. <<>>

Another very familiar song that Carmichael and company breathe new life into is Salty Dog. They add a bit of rock sensibility to the mixure of rural blues and the Dixieland-influenced horns. The result is one of the best versions I have heard of this tune that almost every bluegrass band in the world seems to play. <<>>

The other original is called Booker Blues, with lyrics that are a lot more contemporary. It tells the story of an friend of Carmichael's who was a pot dealer. <<>>

The band has a good time with an old novelty song called Terrible Operation Blues, which has all the musical ingredients that inhabit this CD. <<>>

Kelly Carmichael's new CD Queen Fareena is an enjoyable album that spotlights a facet of the blues that one does not hear that often these days, even in the midst of a blues revival. A few other contemporary performers have ventured into old-time blues with string-band influences such as Steve James and Bob Brozman, and John Hammond has been doing it for decades, as has Ry Cooder, when he wants to. Carmichael and company make music that sounds authentic, even if their combination of styles and influences might not be entirely the way it used to be. The group adds some first-rate musicianship, and their enthusiasm is palpable, adding more to the good-time feeling of the recording.

Our grade for sound quality is about an B plus. The recording has a kind of old-fashioned sound, but the studio effects fontunately don't extend to imitating the low-fi sound of a wind-up phonograph. But there is a lot of compression to that mashes just everything into about the same volume, and the sound could be cleaner.

To qualify and paraphrase the saying "Everything old is new again," The blues in the old style that Kelly Carmichael does on his new CD, old as it is in its influences, makes for a fun and rather novel sound in this day and age.

(c) Copyright 2009 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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