A singer-songwriter and guitarist who takes what he describes as “electric swamp funkin’ blues” (who knew there was such a thing) to places it has never been, Selwyn Birchwood may be forgiven for thinking he has some blues purist demons to exorcise. Then again, it’s hard not to be possessed by Birchwood’s creative gumbo and electrifying style, underpinned by clever, observant songwriting, and distinctive raspy vocals.
His sixth LP, Exorcist (fourth for Alligator Records), brings even more artistic fire than the heavy, ferocious sound of its predecessor, Living In A Burning House. Produced once more by Grammy winner Tom Hambridge, this award-winning blues visionary is firmly in the driver’s seat when directing the traffic. Writing and arranging all 13 songs, Birchwood always finds a road back to the traditional blues while delivering relevant lyrical content (‘I love you like Instagram love strippers’) and searing guitar leads to satisfy the streaming generation.
Birchwood’s tears run dry from the off on breakup opener “Done Cryin,” penning his own stinging take on an age-old blues theme that’s a perfect partner for his gravelly, old-school bluesman pipes.
The Florida-born and bred six-stringer shines some scathing rays on residents of the Sunshine State (‘where the rebel state meet mickey house’) in “Florida Man,” with every line rather ingeniously ripped from media headlines. While it’s impossible not to see the funny side of this track, it’s another astutely-crafted number with Birchwood’s thick and distorted lap steel tone delivering urgency, screaming over some hard rhythm backbeats.
The devil woman problems continue on “Horns Below Her Halo,” but there’s no such trouble with the blazing, Buddy Guy-esque guitar work that triumphantly tramples over a swampy backdrop. Birchwood’s word wizardry is again on show, claiming that Satan is a woman with the term ‘Lucif-her.’
Birchwood turns funky on the lubricious bark of “Underdog,” which also sees him take the bass reigns while snarling about his own persevering will. The title cut “Exorcist,” gives us a taste of the occult with its ominous, mid-tempo pace that shoots Birchwood into Hendrix mode with some soaring fuzz-toned guitar. Combined with the sax-thumping abandon of longtime band member Regi Oliver, this is a magical cure of ‘eagle’s claw, monkey paw, and burning sage’ (rather than those overworked genre lexes of black cat bone and voodoo).
It’s another sign of Birchwood’s ability to refresh the blues, and he doesn’t stop there. The slow tempo “Plenty More To Be Grateful For” is beautifully soulful and elevated by a gospel-inspired trio of backing singers who bring the church’s power. Another notable moment on Exorcist is the brilliant lap steel guitar on “Swim At Your Own Risk.” This mosquito-infested tale of a criminal that falls prey to an alligator confirms his status as one of the blue’s most talented players and gifted songwriters.
He even has time to throw in another blistering guitar workout in “My Own Worst Enemy,” once again cementing his superiority against the demons of self-love and self-consciousness.
Inventive and refreshing, long may this battle continue.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Florida Man
– Horns Below Her Halo
– Plenty More To Be Grateful For
The Big Hit
– Plenty More To Be Grateful For
Buy the album: Amazon