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Mare Edstrom & Kenn Fox – Way Beyond The Blue
Though Mare Edstrom and Kenn Fox aren’t re-inventing the wheel on the CD release Way Beyond The Blue, kudos has to be given for the arrangements and the approach they take on tunes written by the likes of Snooky Pryor, Fred McDowell and other masters who specialized in the acoustic genre of its presentation. While Edstrom and Foxx are not a household name to blues aficionados doesn’t mean they can’t offer a perspective that’s unique and refreshing.
Using several background vocalists not only fleshes out the sound but breathes ethereal and a spooky atmosphere to the tracks which makes for an enticing appeal to listeners who wish to loose themselves in the sound.
Mare Edstrom’s vocals aren’t on the same ground as Susan Tedeschi’ but it doesn’t matter. Her deep and throaty singing is the perfect fit for a selection of tunes that would be right at home for a church service.
Not too often do you find the Mississippi Fred McDowell tune “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind on Jesus” as a leading track off a CD. But it’s the perfect choice and certainly serves as a highlight for Kenn Fox’ slashing slide guitar. The tolling of a church bell leads into the old traditional “Do Lord” that starts off as a ghostly number abetted by Fox’ acoustic which morphs into an ending with what seems as backwards slide guitar. Who says you can’t find funeral parlor psychedelia in the blues?
Having Fox handling the production chores and arrangements of the songs is a good choice. The man has a good sense of creating an ambience that makes obscure blues numbers stand out in their own way. Drummer Tim Rush and bassist Dave Finley do their jobs well as a rhythm section whose steadfast support is sturdy enough when needed to give a rocky edge.
Blind Willie McTell wrote “Statesboro Blues” but believe it or not he had a feel for church soul as shown in the cover “I Got To Cross The River of Jordan” with Edstrom’s vocal delivery taking it all home.
But it is on the Blind Willie Johnson track “Rain Don’t Fall On Me” that Edstrom really hits the mournful notes with Fox guitar work proving strong counterpoint.
You can’t just cover only one Fred McDowell song. While the world has been subjected to repeated listenings of “You Gotta Move” doesn’t mean you won’t appreciate this take. With the background vocalists creating a choir effect and the familiar bass drum stomp, the tune personifies that Baptist church vibe we’ve become accustomed too before Fox’ dobro playing steers the song into a rockier territory with drummer Rush emerging to the forefront to jump-start the rhythm for a little pick me up.
There’s no escaping the fact that church music plays a role in instrumental in the overall concept of the songs. But that doesn’t mean the music can’t swing with a groove and it does just that in Reverend Pearly Brown’s “You’re Gonna Need That Pure Religion” with Fox’ slide work bearing the imprints of North Mississippi All-Stars Luther Dickinson. It’s a shuffle but a damn good one upbeat enough to shake the pews and make for a fun time jubilee.
The songs may not sound like they were christened at the crossroads. It seems it was done with the best intentions of not so much of directing a listener on a path to find true religion, but in seeking an alternative rather than making the material too authentic or turning it into over-driven blues rock . It’s a fine line to walk and Mare Edstrom and Kenn Fox do it well without losing their balance.
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.