I have to be fair, by the early 2000s, I’d more or less given up on contemporary blues. The obsession with flashy guitar works, never-ending solos and “always-loud” arrangements (if you can call them that…) to the detriment of powerful lyrics and sparse instrumentation had eroded my patience and faith in blues. With a few select exceptions, I stopped looking for new blues and focused on other genres where I found more exciting stuff.
Then I stumbled upon Michael Powers. I can’t even remember how or why, maybe it was the compelling cover of Onyx Root or a quick snippet heard at a listening booth in a record store (remember those?) Anyway, I got the album and I didn’t regret that purchase for an instant. From the first seconds of Succesful Son, that acoustic intro with the unprocessed drum backing and the electricity creeping in gradually, I knew that this was the guy to save contemporary blues.
I always thought that finding that fine line between positioning yourself as part of a tradition as rich as the blues and finding your own voice at the same time was one of the hardest things for an artist to do. It’s not enough to love this music with all your heart, and sadly the blues sections of record stores are filled with records of artists who have nothing to say. Who don’t get it. Powers gets it and then some.
From deep slow blues like I Can’t Quit You Baby to revisited classics like Baby’s Got a Train or the brave (and successful) soul-wrenching version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, this record has gotten it all. Michael Powers clearly has influences, but they are blended into his own thing. This is what blues should be about: not flashy, not demonstrative but rather vibrant through sparseness and depth.