X-DESCENDANT - Rosetta West (Alive Records)
Initially, I wasn't inclined to give this record much interest. Blues, as the fundamental basis for rock'n'roll has been championed, celebrated, exploited and mutilated by a artists across the world, black, white, male, female, old, young, good, bad, incompetent and ugly. Compare Eric Clapton's work in the Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers and Cream to his insipid output in the late 1970s and 1980s (ditching his heroin addiction was great for his health, but terrible for his music), and you can see the extremes of blues in a single performer. We've all heard good blues, and, unfortunately, there's a shitload of not so good stuff.
So I approached Rosetta West's new album, “X Descendant”, with considerable trepidation. Rosetta West are a three piece consisting of Joseph Demagore (vocals, guitar, keyboards, and principle song writer), Jay Daniels (bass) and Mike Weaver (drums). The blues here comes with a psychedelic sort of wash. In true blues fashion, the vocals have a slight moaning edge (for a bizarre contrast, I'd like to see someone transpose a Sandra Dee vocal track on a Howlin' Wolf backing track, and see where it came out – probably like adding raspberry cordial to soy sauce, I imagine).
So what happened along the way? Track 4, the very subtle “Vampire Song”. Listening to this sent my mind into a moment of musical confusion. I spent a solid hour listening and re-listening to this song, trying to work out what it reminded me of. And then I realised what was plaguing my brain. The lyrics reminded me of the Paul Young (he of the 1980s spiky pop hair and insipid brooding demeanour) song “Love of the Common People”, specifically the line (in the Rosetta West tune) “Daddy's going to buy you a diamond ring” (in the Paul Young song it's “Daddy's going to buy you a dream to cling to”). It's not the same lyric, but the tonal progression and rhythmic feel was too close to ignore.
But it's not that a vague similarity to a crappy 1980s pop song (which, I must admit, I pretended to like at the time it was released 'cause it quite a few eligible girls in my high school liked it – the things you do for (unrequited) juvenile love) caused me to like the rest of the album. It's just after so much intense listening, I realised that this is, objectively, a good contemporary blues album. Demagore's vocals are constantly stretched, and the tension exerted on his vocal chords gives the music an almost warbling edge. His guitar work – fluctuating between electric and acoustic – is subtle, but definitely invigorating.
The cover of the oft-covered “Shakin' All Over” is captivating (but not as potent as The Who's Live at Leeds version). “The Flag” owes serious lyrical tribute to “Born Under a Bad Sign. The final track, Return to Inferno is a haunting, almost spacelike trip that's more mid-1970s Pink Floyd (“Run Like Hell) than Delta blues – and sees off the album like the dialogue free conclusion of a European art house film.
It's hard to make a serious impression playing the blues. If you don't like raw blues, you won't like this album, period. But if you do enjoy blues, you should enjoy it. And if you don't have any flashbacks to Paul Young, be very, very thankful.
– Patrick Emery
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