Bottleneck John – All Around Man – Opus 3 CD23001 stereo-only SACD, 54:26 [4/16/13] *****:
(Bottleneck John – 6 & 12-string Resonator & acoustic guitars, banjo, mandolin, electric guitar, kazoo, vocals; Mattias Nordqvist – grand piano, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer; Kent Ogren – Resonator, doublebass; Lars Astrand – mandolin, fiddle; Mattias Olofsson – percussion; Stefan Swen – harmonica; Karl Eneland – tuba; Patrik Idell – guitar)
With Delta blues, certain names come to mind. Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Charley Patton, Junior Kimbrough, Lead Belly and B.B. King are just a minute segment of this legendary tradition. Inspired by religion, prison and life’s struggles, this style of blues music is noted for its primarily acoustic guitar instrumentation, often augmented by a bottleneck slide. The influence of Delta is worldwide, and is not far removed from current musical formats.
So it should not be too surprising that a Swedish man named Johan Eliasson adopted the moniker Bottleneck John and is a practitioner of Delta blues. Raised in a musical family, he was drawn to the gospel blues of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Additionally, Eliasson has an extensive collection of vintage stringed instruments that capture the spirit of traditional blues. Opus 3 Records, who produced Eric Bibb, seemed a perfect fit for this artist. Engineered by Jan-Eric Persson, All Around Man is a glowing introduction to a dedicated, gifted musician.
Consisting of 11 covers and three original compositions, this album is a rare combination of epochal blues music rendered with state-of-the-art technology. Opus 3 frames the recording in natural, aural environments that enhance the authenticity of the acoustics. The first song is a soulful rendition of “Lonesome Valley”. Bottleneck’s deep, rumbling vocals complement his 12-string resonator. The liner noted to All Around Man are very informative. There is detailed information about the instruments and some insight into the song selections. A certain highlight is Robert Johnson’s “Come On Into My Kitchen”. There have been many versions of Johnson’s classic tune, and this interpretation on a vintage Dobro pays respectful homage to the composer. The evocative, brooding eloquence has a genuine sound and feeling.
There are excellent session players on the album. “No Matter How She Done It” is Hokum swing and Mattias Nordqvist contributes some down and dirty licks on an 1887 Bechstein grand piano. A second Hokum piece (“All Around Man”) also rocks. Eliasson’s agile bottleneck riffs make this jam special. The duo (with an assist on harmonica by Stefan Swen) takes on Tom Waits’ urban gospel hymn, “Jesus Gonna Be Here”. Nordqvist’s piano solo reverberates along the lower register. Another religious song (“Out Of The Rain”) is blissful, slowed-down gospel. Each track has a specific instrumental aesthetic. On “Wade In The Water” Eliasson plays the “Kicking Mule Special”, a guitar built with a neck stick, cigar box, one bolt and a Diddley bow. The primitive tonality is intriguing.
On a different note, “Mandolinferno” is up tempo and jazzy, with Eliasson playing slide mandolin and Lars Astrand adds a second lead. But the languid spirit of Delta returns on “How Long, How Long Blues”. In this case, a 1936 fiddle-edge Regal Dobro brings wistfulness to the cut. Bottleneck John is equally capable as a solo performer. His self-penned “Only A Woman” explores the sadness of troubled love with a foot-stomping undercurrent.
All Around Man is a bluesy triumph. Every nuance of the instruments is captured with organic clarity and full texture. Persson has paid significant attention to microphone placement and overall mixing. With Eric Bibb and Bottleneck John, Opus 3 Records is a blues label to be taken seriously.
TrackList: Lonesome Valley; Come On Into My Kitchen; No Matter How She Done It; Autumn Rime; Do You Call That A Buddy?; Jesus Gonna Be Here; Out Of The Rain; All Around Man; Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues; Mandolinferno; How Long, How Long Blues; Only A Woman; You Can’t Get That Stuff No More; Wade In The Water