(Bad Oscar Records, CD)
Montpelier bluesman Blue Fox is a regular on central Vermont's pub circuit. An enthusiastic performer, his steel string guitar work and rugged baritone vocals can be heard nearly every week at area watering holes and eateries. Solo Blue finds him going it alone on 10 originals and six covers. The disc is a decent example of beer-soaked, workin' class blues -- the kind of stuff that sounds best while shooting a friendly game of pool.
Opener "Big Boss Man" kicks things off with a sly shuffle. Fox knocks rhythmically on the side of his axe, firmly anchoring the tune to a steady, 4/4 pulse. The uncluttered instrumentation serves to highlight the guitarist's every lick and strum, as he works overtime to fill the empty spaces. The busy runs don't always serve the song, however. Fox's eagerness often exceeds his emotional range, and raw emotion is a cornerstone of the blues.
"Juke Joint BBQ" provides a fine example of the songwriter's musical disposition. It's hard to imagine a song about grilled meat being anything but corny, but Fox's laid-back charm more than makes up for the tune's light lyrics.
"Deal with the Devil," on the other hand, evokes the blues' more sinister sensibilities. A rural cousin to Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying," the song's central slide guitar riff certainly has teeth. Still, it failed to convince me of an infernal bargain struck by moonlight. Probably a good thing for Fox.
The jaunty "Front Porch Boogie" is another instrumental number, recorded live at the Langdon Street Cafe. While it might not fly down in the Delta, it's pretty damn good for a Northern boy. The solo harmonica workout "Railroad Blues" is culled from the same performance. As the crowd hoots enthusiastically, Fox unleashes a mighty stream of skronk, barely pausing for breath.
"Yo Bro, get Your Dobro" is one of my favorite cuts. On it, Fox sings joyfully of homebrewed beverages and impromptu jam sessions. Album closer "Pickin' for Pam" is likewise enjoyable, containing some of Fox's most inspired performances. The song's namesake should be pleased.
If warm-hearted, benign blues is up your alley, Solo Blue is sure to impress. But if you're looking for pathos with your pickin', stick with Robert Johnson. Blue Fox celebrates the release of the CD at the Langdon Street Cafe on Friday, January 27.