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Adventures In Bluesland’s “The American Dream” Reviewed

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2014s Adventures In Bluesland was where post-punk avatar Phil Gammage, distilled his uncanny vocal prowess, a child of Elvis, and strident  scrappy guitar and harp, into a testament to the living proof that is the blues. Adventures In Bluesland are the five piece band that Phil put together to perform the album, including Don Fiorino (lap steel guitar), Johnny Cement (bass), Robert Aaron (saxophone, keyboards), and Kevin Tooley (drums). One year later, after extensive gigging in support of it, with stops in the studio to record  a single (with John Sinclair), two blues classics and nine new songs, Adventures In Bluesland have released their debut album, The American Dream. Though you might assume the difference was a group versus a solo aesthetic, you’d be wrong. The difference between the two albums is the surfeit of original material in the latter.

The thing is, Phil is a team player,a social loner who needs a fuller sound than he might get from a more Mississippi acoustic folkiness (which could be overpowered by that baritone), although from the wide spaces of Texas, his aesthetic is urban. “Watching The Traffic Flow”, a third into The American Dream, is haunted by a dramatic and gorgeous harp solo and Don Fiorino’s lap steel guitar, but the sense is not of the flow of a river, but the flow of cars down Broadway: Bluesland is not green, or dusty, it is concrete and metal.

Phil’s vocals are operatic in their supple depth, the range is limited but the depth is charged always: they seem to sink you down into the blues, twisting through lyric, seductive or somber, passionate or playful, the new songs are like instant classics because the voice is so singular, you feel like you already know them. Phil is the Snoop Dogg of the blues, he makes everything he sings his own, even his own material sounds both new and heard because that voice leads you on, it gives them an immediacy which after repeated hearing mesmerize you.

This is heavy duty stuff yet still playful, “Booze, Blues, And Tattoos” -rockabilly on the road to Mobile, Alabama, must be a blast on stage, it must get the audience moving their feet. A travel song, which arrives before it gets there, with Kevin’s rockabilly shuffle leading the way. The last song on the album “Come To Me” finds Phil channelling the Mavericks, with a Tex Mex feel anchored by Robert Aaron’s saxophone, Robert makes off with “Feel The Music” while the band wasn’t looking.

Both of the covers, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “One Kind Favor” and Geeshie Wiley’s “Last Kind Word Blues.” are too lively to be exactly respectful of their sources. I remember “One Kind Favor” as a song Bob Dylan used to perform, “See That My Grave’s Kept Clean” the last song off his 1962 eponymous debut album, Phil puts it first here and he plays it like a Western swing, like an ode to his home State. Like his heart belongs to Texas and where he will return. It’s where Western swing meets Texas blues.

If this all reads like a testimonial, we live in a world where such organic beauty and powerful drama don’t come easy. We need to embrace it when we find it, and all nine original songs are real finds, “Our Lucky Day”, “Float And Swing”, “Drifting” which sounds like it’s been around forever, deserve embracing. This is pure artistry and alive pop art: it covers the bases. And it is New York, watching the traffic flow in a true blues greatness. “It’s gonna be alright”, Phil claims in the midst of the concrete jungle that is Blueslands. I believe him.

Grade: A

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