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Paul Reddick - Sugarbird

Northern Blues Music

12 tracks, total time: 46:32

Sugarbird is singer/songwriter/harpman Paul Reddick’s fourth album for Canada’s renowned Northern Blues label, and is testimony to the fine artistry of Reddick and his producer, Colin Linden. Sugarbird features 12 original songs, 10 of them co-written by Reddick with the CD’s producer, the multiply talented Colin Linden (one of them co-written by Reddick, Linden and Kate Schutt), and two of them by Colin Linden. As befits a bluesman like Reddick, who also enjoys bird watching and is a devotee of modern poetry, especially that of Kenneth Rexroth, the songs on Sugarbird are infused with the poet’s lyrical sense. The song lyrics are not so much lyrics as they are poems that are specially honed and crafted poems created to fit their music.

While most of the songs are wistfully positive or exuberant, Reddick’s lyricism can also find eloquence exploring the darker side of life and the ways of women, as shown by the chorus of “Every Temptation”

Whoa, and it’s every temptation
Your mouth is full of knives
I fell in love with a pretty girl
A heart like a clasping knife

Colin Linden’s own lyricism expresses itself equally deeply, as in this line from his wistful tone poem tribute to John Lennon, “John Lennon in New Orleans”:
I was hiding in the storm
And you saved me from the rain

Reddick’s label, Northern Blues, is not only one of the world’s premier blues recording labels, but more significantly, has been instrumental in stretching the boundaries of what can be considered blues, and doing this without watering down the music, or becoming merely eclectic. Indeed, its stretching has been characterized throughout by a commitment to artistic excellence. It has simply given its artists space in which to be freely expressive in their own voice, and in doing so, has extended the range of what is blues music. This is a quality that is much evident in Sugarbird.

Indeed, Sugarbird is a mixture of styles and genres, reflecting Reddick’s passion for all types of American roots music. Piedmont blues mixes here with traces of Appalachian folk ballad, and acoustic folk blues intertwines with percussion. Blues-rock is a presence on a couple of tracks, and especially characterizes “Every Temptation.” Sugarbird, always in its essentials a blues album recorded for a blues label, showcases two numbers that are straight-ahead mid-1950s electric city blues, “Devilment” and “Block of Wood.” “John Lennon in New Orleans” is most felicitously rendered as a medium-tempo New Orleans blues with solid sax riffs, while the exuberantly lustful “It’s Later Than You Think” is horn-driven jazz swing with an appropriately bluesy complement provided by Reddick’s harp solo.

Producer Colin Linden doubles as guitarist on Sugarbird, giving forth with expressive virtuosity on electric, 12-string acoustic and National Steel guitars, as well as banjo. Rhythm players here, bassists Hutch Hutchinson, John Dymond, and Dave Roe, and drummers Ryan Owings, Stephen Hodges and Gary Craig, are veteran players from the bands of Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Shelby Lynne, Dwight Yoakam and Johnny Cash. Joe Sublette and Jim McMillen play sax, and Darrell Leonard trumpet, on “John Lennon in New Orleans,” “It’s Later Than You Think” and the torchy blues, “Breathless Girls.” The Band’s Garth Hudson provides accordion accompaniment to the more folkish “Morning Bell,” “Wishing Song” and “Climbing Up the Hill.” And last for musician credits, Chris Carmichael provides cello and violin to “Blue Wings” and “If By This.”

The CD jacket and enclosed note booklet feature the gorgeous renderings of the Mango Hummingbird by John James Audubon. Both jacket and booklet are excellently printed, making Sugarbird a visual as well as aural treat. Lastly of note, the production of Sugarbird received financial support through the Canadian government’s Department of Canadian Heritage (Canada Music Fund), with financial support also provided by Canada’s private radio broadcasters. Too bad the blues here in the United States doesn’t get that same kind of “socialistic” encouragement.

Reviewer George Fish lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr, and writes a regular music column, “Blues and More” for the online Bloomington (IN) Alternative. He’s also published in the regional Indiana blues and alternative presses as well as Living Blues and Blues Access, and wrote the notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has also published on blues and pop music for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy, as well as the online Political Affairs and MRZine.

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