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Ian Siegal & The Youngest Sons - The Skinny

Nugene Records

11 songs; 55:09 minutes; Splendid

Styles: North Mississippi Hill Country; Blues Rock

You are probably familiar with the story of The Rolling Stones coming to Chicago in the 1960s to visit Chess Records and get to the base of their adopted roots, the Blues. In a modern and similar move, England’s award winning vocalist Ian Siegal came to Mississippi August 2010 to record. Ian Siegal (born Ian Berry, 1971) is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist with musical interests in Blues roots. His influences include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Son House, and Junior Kimbrough. His goal on this pond crossing was to get a particularly unique style of Blues, North Mississippi Hills Country music.

North Mississippi Hills Country Blues' style is characterized by a vamped, repetitious groove and a stable driving rhythm. It has sometimes been called “Drone Blues, Hypnotic Blues, or Trance Blues.” Often raw in sound, there are few chord changes and unconventional song structures. In the nineties, this style was popularized by the Fat Possum label recordings of local Holly Springs MS musicians such as R.L. Burnside and David "Junior" Kimbrough.

“The Skinny,” Siegal’s fifth album on the Nugene label, was recorded in Coldwater, Mississippi at the Zebra Ranch studio of the late, legendary producer and musician Jim Dickinson. His sons Luther and Cody Dickinson are the nucleus of the “North Mississippi Allstars.” Cody produced the album while adding some drums, percussion and woogie board. The Band, “The Youngest Sons,” are the youngest sons of local legends: Garry Burnside (bass, son of R.L.), Robert Kimbrough (guitar, son of David Jr.) and Rodd Bland (drums, son of Bobby Bland). Guesting are Alvin Youngblood Hart, Duwayne Burnside, and Andre Turner.

Siegal described the recording experience as “unlike any previous recording I’ve done.” He describes a group of artists jamming, having fun and taking pleasure in composing. The lyrics are full of familiar Blues thoughts, but the songs seem to be prime moments from jam sessions with some wonderful moments emerging. The result is a Contemporary Blues-award-nominated CD with eleven songs – seven Siegal originals, a couple of covers, and two Burnside contributions.

The title track, “The Skinny,” is a mid-tempo song with a solid beat, Hart and Kimbrough on rhythm guitars, and Ian’s slide guitar supporting raw, brawny vocals. “Master Plan” allows Siegal the peculiar Howlin' Wolf growling vocals that reaffirm him as a disciple.

The songs “Picnic Jam,” “Natch’l Low (Coolin’ Board),” and “Devil's In The Detail” are examples of that Hill Country Blues style. The latter also features another component unique to the Hills, flute accompaniment reviving the traditional Hill Country Fife-and-Drum.

“Moonshine Minnie” with its swampy, sultry soul is perhaps most radio-friendly for general Blues audiences. Finally comes an amicable tribute to actor Dennis Hopper, “Hopper (Blues for Dennis).” It finds Ian himself on solo lead guitar, "Well, here comes trouble with that grin across his face....”

There are still Blues fans who just don’t get the Hills Blues, but that is ok, there’s plenty of Blues styles to go around. For those that do, and especially for fans of the roots music of Ian Siegal, I think there will be general agreement that his pond hopping to the Hills was worth it.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL.

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