Fiona Boyes – Professin’ The Blues – Reference Recording

Fiona Boyes – Professin’ The Blues – Reference Recording RR-140 HDCD, 54:07 ****:

Delta blues and more from another part of the world.

(Fiona Boyes – guitars, vocals/ Jim Bott – drums, percussion/ Denny Crow – bass)

Blues music began as a regional cultural touchstone. Through jazz, rock and roll and country/western, the once provincial music has been shared with the world. The Rolling Stones named their band after a Muddy Waters song. Fiona Boyes grew up hearing blues music in Australia. With the female blues band The Mojos, Boyes became a star. After winning the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, she broadened her fan, touring and recording for over a decade.

Boyes’ latest release, Professin’ The Blues on Reference Recording is a 16-track blues feast. Recorded originally in 24-bit technology, she performs in solo, duet and trio, generating authentic blues chops. For blues integrity, every song was recorded live with no overdubs or separate tracking.  The opening title track is straight-ahead Delta blues on a traditional instrument (National Reso-Phonic guitar). Boyes’ husky vocals bring an emotional depth of feeling. Picking up the Beeton Resonator, “Devil You Know” deals with a bad relationship. The stripped-down effect resonates with the vocals. In a Caribbean-flavored ditty, “Lay Down With Dogs” is jaunty and benefits from a washboard percussion. In addition to blues, Boys unfurls a sentimental homage to her native Australia on “Angels and Boats”. Her picking here is flawless.

Adopting a grittier context, “One Rule For You” expresses anger and mistrust in a general way. Her vocals and guitar have a toughness that resonates. Calling out her “ex”. “Card Sharp” stands out for its nasty vocal and a unique 4-string cigar-box guitar with some nimble slide runs. With another change of pace, “Old And Stiff” has dual-edged word playfulness and Spike Jones-type percussive flashes. Boyes had a deep respect for American blues. “Love Me All The Way” is a throw-down to love that has some bouncy guitar (back to the National again) riffs that are upbeat and accessible. She captures the country near-dance vibe on “Stubborn Old Mule”.

Bit there are some unexpected arrangements. In particular, “Catfish Fiesta” employs a festive New Orleans rhythm. Boyes’ never strays too far from genuine blues. “If I Should Die” (just 4-string cigar box guitar and voice) is mournful and “At The Crossroads” (also solo with Maton acoustic guitar and voice) is an uptempo country gospel tune. While there are 14 original compositions, two covers also stand out on this album. A lot of performers have taken a crack of Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go”. Boyes’ rendition stands up to all of them, infused with wicked guitar hooks and hoarse vocals. The finale (“Face In The Mirror”) is much different from the other cuts. Wrapped in a gentle 3/4 country tempo, the reflective narrative has an innate charm that is appealing.

Professin’ The Blues is a special album. The natural blues talents of Fiona Boyes are captured in realistic acoustics. The organic guitar tonality sounds augmented, without any distortion in the innovative HDCD encoding process. Legendary engineer Keith O. “Professor” Johnson is adept at mixing with vintage and modern technology to achieve the Reference Recording aesthetics.  Boyes’ voice maintains the jagged blued pedigree, bit also emphasizes the sultry fluidity. This is great music!

TrackList: Can’t Stay Here No More; Devil You Know; Lay Down With Dogs; Angels And Boats; One Rule For You; Card Sharp; Old And Stiff; Kiss Me Darling; Love Me All The Way; Stubborn Old Mule; Catfish Fiesta; If I Should Be; At The Crossroads; Baby Please Don’t Go; Face In The Mirror

—Robbie Gerson

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