REVIEW: 8 Ball Aitken’s “Swamp Blues 2” Understands the Blues


Originally from Australia, this Nashville based guitarist 8 Ball Aitken has a new 13-track Swamp Blues 2, (Independent – April 24) his 11th LP & features the excellent JJ Johnson on drums, bassist Glenn Fukunaga, and sax-keyboardist, Buddy Leach.

Surprised an Australian does the blues? No. New Zealand’s Donna Dean is a great country singer & Italian rocker Eugenio Finardi’s all-English blues LP “Anima Blues,” charted in Texas.

Is this swampy blues genuine? Well, the blues is the blues, it’s specific. Artists dip a toe into the pool then add their own ingredients & it dilutes. Is this swampy like Dr. John, the late Tony Joe White, Marcia Ball, Slim Harpo or J.J. Cale? Or is it thin slices of Wet Willie, Black Oak Arkansas, or Blackfoot?

“Tremolo Rain,” is well-recorded with a haunting beat. Near Del-Lords & The Blasters in tradition. It’s good & the songs have a compelling dirty-blues vocal rasp — always effective.

Melodic, mysterious, 8 Ball avoids the commercial clichés. The music looks back to Bobbie Gentry (“Mississippi Delta”) & most of Tony Joe White’s swampy humid approach.

Recorded in Texas “Week Man,” has Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar tone & co-producer 8 Ball Aitken approaches but isn’t quite as bluesy dark as the late John Campbell. But Aitken understands the blues.

“Murderer’s Bar,” is vintage. A murkier Mark Knopfler blues — not quite as dynamic as Chris Rea it may be too close to the Knopfler of Dire Straits. Some follow the basic blues formula but they’re proficient. The styles are varied & distinctive. It never goes into smoldering blues terrain, but the lyrical matter is not a challenge as it is. It’s a weakness in storytelling.

Many of today’s musicians never lived the blues life as the legends did.

With a J.J. Cale-tone, 8 Ball Aitken does “Living On the River” effectively. A definite borrow of the distinctive Cale inflections sung well & beautifully soulful with female backup singers. I like this.

“Knocking On Your Door,” is Roy Buchanan-like but 8 Ball Aitken is vocally far better. The song has weight but lay off vocal effects. “The Bed That You Made,” has redeeming blues value. Splendid.

“Cherry,” is basics. A weak ZZ Top. Probably good live but on record, just filler. Neil Young type vocals faintly rise on “Chocolate, Jack Daniels & LSD,” but this is interesting stuff with good sound, vocals & creative lyrics – finally. Another dip into J.J. Cale land “Cold Shower” has a haunting harmonica. 8 Ball originality surfaces & it slow boils then simmers.

A good producer is all that’s needed. The image? The 70s long-haired, tight-pants bandana musician is a worn-out cliché. This artist needs a signature blues look. The uninitiated will think he’s Grand Funk Railroad, or Europe — not swampy blues. It’s contrary to where the music is. Management/PR should advise. The late Tony Joe White & J.J. Cale is a bonafide swampy blues look. Start there.

The CD is available at Amazon.

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