British blues-rock veteran Ian Siegal has spent better than two decades pursuing his own unique vision of the blues, leaning heavily towards the rootsier side of the Mississippi-bred sounds of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. Equally enamored of the raucous North Mississippi Hill Country style of bluesmen Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, Siegal mixed up all these disparate influences over the course of five albums to create a heady blues-brew that earned him induction into the British Blues Hall of Fame.
In 2011, Ian Siegal traveled to Coldwater, Mississippi to record with Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars at his Zebra Ranch studio. The resulting album, the Dickinson-produced The Skinny, was credited to Siegal and the Youngest Sons and included contributions from talents like guitarists Robert Kimbrough and Alvin Youngblood Hart and bassist Garry Burnside, among other familiar names. The album gained Siegal a newfound U.S. audience that had long-eluded him, as well as his first Blues Music Award nomination. Figuring that they could capture lightning in the bottle for a second time, Siegal returned to Mississippi to record Candy Store Kid, Dickinson again behind the board and Siegal's backing band, the "Mississippi Mudbloods," including Burnside and Hart as well as guitarist Luther Dickinson and other friends.
Ian Siegal & the Mississippi Mudbloods' Candy Store Kid
Although the bulk of Candy Store Kid is made up of Siegal originals, he opens the album with the delightful "Bayou Country," an obscure but often-covered tune by former Elvis Presley bassist Duke Bardwell. A blue-eyed soul number with swamp-rock undertones, the song's 1970s-era influence is dizzying, offering up delicious backing harmonies, Luther Dickinson's hot git licks, Siegal's period-perfect vocals, and an overall Southern rock vibe that reminds of Don Nix or Travis Wammack. Siegal travels a bit further south for the ramshackle blues-rock of "Loose Cannon," the song's greasy construct fueled by Hart's knowing slingshot slide-guitar and Cody Dickinson's muddy rhythms, the band creating a down 'n' dirty juke-joint blues with an infectious chorus and big-beat sound.
Siegal and the Mudbloods go with a country-funk sound for "I Am The Train," a driving rhythm pounded out by Garry Burnside's nimble bass lines and Dickinson's lively drumbeats rumbling furiously as Hart's electrifying fretwork slithers beneath Siegal's lively but nuanced vocals. Lyrically, Siegal applies a metaphysical bent to a metaphorical tale as the slightly-twangy, blues-inflected music click-clacks in the background like the steel wheels of a runaway locomotive. A cover of friend Steve "Lightnin'" Malcolm's "So Much Trouble" is delivered with the subtlety of a drunken rhino bum-rushing a china shop but, to be honest, the song was pretty much written that way by the Two Man Wrecking Crew member. Luther Dickinson's razor-edged fretting of the sitar (an unusual blues instrument, to be sure) helps create the song's malevolent atmosphere. Siegal's vocals are often lost beneath the claustrophobic instrumental soundtrack, with only the three-voice female gospel-styled backing harmonies bringing any sort of sunlight to the performance.
The Ian Siegal and Luther Dickinson-penned "Kingfish" is an inspired cross between Howlin' Wolf and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Although Siegal adds a few spirited verses, the emphasis here is on spotlighting his ongoing mastery of the Hill Country six-string drone, resulting in an electric and entirely satisfying performance. The crew gets stone cold funky for a cover of the Little Richard obscurity "Green Power," Hart adding his vocals alongside Siegal's to great effect as Luther's guitar shades some of the corners with candy-flake texture, but it's definitely the rhythm section here of Hart (on the fat strings) and Cody Dickinson that fuels this funk-fest, the two providing a deep, wide groove that you could get lost in for years.
Garry Burnside steps up with his hard-rocking original "Strong Woman," his soulful vocals melding with Siegal's gruffer voice for a simply explosive performance. The song displays a nimble rhythmic groove, peppered as it is by Burnside's Hendrix-influenced guitar licks, supported by Luther Dickinson's heavy bass lines. The gentler "Rodeo" offers a sharp contrast, the lyrically-introspective romantic ode offering up some of the most brilliant imagery Siegal has penned to date, his melancholy vocals providing a bittersweet emotional edge to the performance as a lush miasma of swirling instrumentation – led by Hart's shimmering fretwork – blooms like a wildfire behind his voice. The deep-fried funk of "Hard Pressed (what da fuzz?)" closes out Candy Store Kid, Luther Dickinson's buzzing fretwork slipping 'n' sliding beneath Siegal's vocal gymnastics on a spry lil' sucker that falls hard on the Southern rock side of the blues-rock equation.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Ian Siegal has always been an above-average talent with a unique eye for the blues, but with Candy Store Kid and his previous album The Skinny, he seems to have discovered a new muse. By traveling to Mississippi and recording with members of the storied Dickinson and Burnside families (as well as the equally-talented Alvin Youngblood Hart), Siegal has created some of the most vital and entertaining music of his lengthy career. Going for more of a Memphis soul heartbeat than its Delta-dirty predecessor, Candy Store Kid is a career milestone and a heck of a lot of fun. (Nugene Records, released October 15, 2012)
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