Luke Winslow-King’s new album Blue Mesa (Bloodshot Records) was recorded in the idyllic Italian village of Lari, a Tuscan fortress. Accompanied by Roberto Luti, the Italian blues guitarist; Chris Davis (King James and the Special Men) and with Mike Lynch (Bob Seger, Larry McCray) on organ,”Winslow-King goes electric!” The line is not original, nor perhaps is it shocking as the original Bob Dylan event, but it is fitting. Powered by stunning electric guitar riffs, Blue Mesa is Luke Winslow-King’s bluesiest album yet. And while Winslow King hasn’t rejected the traditionalism and electicism he is known for, his sound here embraces elements of roots rocks. These are welcomed developments in Winslow-King’s musical direction.
The first song on Blue Mesa, “You Got Mine” was co-written with long-time friend Lissa Driscoll, who passed away last fall, which lends traces of sorrow to this one. When Winslow-King’s fans play this track, they will immediately notice the bluesy electric guitar riffs. Some of these fans may balk at his decision to go electric, but they should reconsider this reaction. As a quintessential Americana artist, Winslow-King has never allowed himself to be defined by any genre, drawing from a variety of different, mainly older styles of American music: New Orleans jazz, Delta blues, ragtime, pre-war American folk.
Since its invention the electric guitar is central to the blues music tradition. That’s not to say a fine tradition of acoustic blues does not exist. Lead Belly and Robert Johnson played acoustic. Muddy Waters’s Folk Singer is one of the great modern blues album, but playing acoustic was exception for Muddy. The blues, like rock, is fundamentally electric music. Winslow-King could not have made a fine piece of classic blues wailing like “Leghorn Women” on an acoustic guitar.
Winslow-King has not abandoned the traditionalism and eclecticism on blue mesa. The album includes New Orleans inspired jazz numbers (“Chicken Dinner”), roots rock (“Blue Mesa,” “Born to Roam”), and electric folk (“Break Down the Walls,” “After the Rain”). But don’t allow this rough categorization to be a disservice to Winslow-King’s work. His songs rarely fit easily into a single genre, mixing elements of many styles and diverse influences.
People speak of old wine in new bottles. Luke Winslow-King puts new wine in old bottles. His inventive, creative composition and songwriting breathes freshness and new life into American musical traditions. With his move to a more modern, electric sound, Winslow-King has made has most accessible work yet, opening a larger window for new fans to discover his work.
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