Two album reviews for the price of one. Dopamine Machine and Acoustic Machine may be separate releases but they are connected musically as two albums can be.
Hadden Sayers is a veteran Texas singer, songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, and bluesman. He has now returned with his 9th album.
Dopamine Machine is his hardest rocking blues album to date, as it fuses elements from rock and blues into one explosive mix. His guitar work remains impeccable.
It is also a very personal album as it draws from his own thoughts and experiences. Inspired by topics such as love at first sight, cell phone addition, an article in Rolling Stone Magazine, and a Rhythm & Blues Cruise; he paints a personal portrait of his life with his stinging guitar and gritty vocals.
Dopamine Machine is the strongest album of his career; at least for a short time.
So what does an artist do when he has created an excellent album? The answer is, you re-record it as an acoustic album and so Acoustic Machine was born. He is accompanied only by vocalist Ruthie Foster on one song and a friend, Joe Ed Cobbs, who provides percussion on various objects.
Listening to this album after hearing Dopamine Machine, provides a far different experience. It may be the same songs but they now have different textures as they are stripped to basics. Each song takes on a new emotional intensity as it keeps the focus on the lyrics.
Hadden Sayers has released to excellent but very different albums. They are fine examples of how songs can be interpreted differently. They are well-worth a listen.
Rory Block has immersed herself in the blues for literally her entire adult life and part of her teenage years as well. Her five decade career, her prowess as a guitarist/vocalist, and her respect for the history and traditions of the blues have propelled her to the forefront of the American blues pantheon.
For the last decade she has been issuing a series of albums that have channeled, copied, and paid tribute to classic blues masters. Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Skip James have all been subjects of her approach. Her latest album explores the legacy of Bessie Smith.
A Woman’s Soul: Tribute To Bessie Smith is unique in that Smith is a woman and was primarily a vocalist.
Bessie Smith, 1894-1937, was a child of poverty who produced a gritty form of the blues. He songs were raw, as was she, and she was not admired within much of the blues community of the day for the crudeness of her approach. She was, however, one of the most commercially successful artists of the pre-second World War era as her songs resonated at a basic level.
Her stories were sexual, reflected the poverty around her, and dealt with the racial tensions of her time. “Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer,” “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” “Weeping Willow Blues,” “Empty Bed Blues,” and “Do Your Duty” traveled her earthy journey.
To her credit, Rory does not try to imitate Smith but rather updates her music. Her guitar brings Smith’s songs into the 21st century and fills them in ways that were not available at the time of their creation. Her voice is smoother, which gives the material a different sheen. The songs survive in a different form and format and while they are lodged in the past, they remain powerful.
In many ways A Woman’s Soul: Tribute To Bessie Smith, is the most adventurous release in the series. It is a wonderful call from the past that should not go unheeded.