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June 2023

Selwyn Birchwood

Alligator Records

Selwyn Birchwood

It's not secret that I am one of Selwyn Birchwood's biggest fans, and I was so excited when the last time I saw him in concert he announced that he had a new album coming out in June. Of course, there's always the trepidation that any new album by a beloved artist will not measure up to previous efforts.

But that's not the case with Exorcist, Birchwood's fourth album for Alligator Records, as it meets the high standards of his previous releases. Lots of heavy guitar, with lap steel occasionally mixed, effective raspy vocals, creative songwriting, and plenty of energy expended on each song. Birchwood is very adept at changing moods on the 13 original compositions here, making the listener laugh at times while also suffering his blues on other cuts.

He starts off with a sense of redemption on "Done Cryin'," telling us that he's gotten over that failed love, and we want to believe him. There's a heavy guitar intro, later a strong solo with intricate fret board gymnastics. That leads into the first of two songs in which he delivers a tongue-in-cheek mocking of his home state, with "FLorida Man" interspersed with various news reports of the state's male citizenry doing very stupid human tricks. Birchwood's lap steel solo is great.

Birchwood provides a big blast of sound on the up-tempo "Horns Below Her Halo," and he frequently repeats that description for his deceitful woman. "Underdog" is one of my favorite cuts, driven along by a bit of a reggae backbeat and his use of slide on blues/rock guitar chords. The lyrics frequently describe him as an underdog who's underrated, undercut, underestimated, understated, undermined, and underappreciated, mentioning that he works twice as hard to get half as much.

The title cut is next, also with reggae undertones, as he repeats the line, "... you ain't got magic on me no more ...," but that he still needs an exorcist to rid himself of that woman. It's eerie and spooky, highlighted by a killer sax solo from Regi Oliver. Background vocalists Charlyce Simmons, Vanessa Hawkins, and Eric Green give a heavy gospel feeling to the blues shuffle "Lazarus," with Oliver again shining on sax.

Birchwood's intricate guitar picking provides the intro to the up-tempo head bopper "Hopeless Romantic," as he sings about while he never turns his back on love, his woman is causing love to turn it back on him. His guitar solos here are among the best on the album. Equally good guitar is heard on the slow blues, "Plenty More To Be Grateful For," with the female background singers laying down a seductive vibe.

"ILa-View" opens with a lap steel intro, leading into a mid-tempo blues shuffle as Birchwood sings about how much he loves that woman, while Jim McKaba contributes a tasty piano solo. There's even more wonderful lap steel work ahead.

The other Florida-based humorous tune is "Swim At Your Own Risk," with a scofflaw escaping the police by taking a dive into infested waters. Lots of slide guitar here. I'm sure the final score on this episode was Gator 1, Florida Man 0. Birchwood sings, "... May he rest in peace in the belly of the beast ..."

"Call Me What You Want To" is an up-tempo shuffle with jazzy sax work from Oliver and pounding piano from McKaba, while Birchwood tells that woman that she can call him what she wants because he knows she's right. This is one hot number, especially when Selwyn lays down a smokin' blues guitar solo.

More impressive guitar work on the up-tempo blues "My Own Worst Enemy," as self-esteem gives way to self-loathing, especially the way he treats himself. Donald "Huff" Wright lays down a nice bass solo along the way.

Birchwood takes us home with a fast-paced blues instrumental number, "Show Tune," that, of course, has plenty of impressive guitar playing as well as giving Oliver one more chance to blow his sax for us.

Add Exorcist to the growing list of albums that contribute to Selwyn Birchwood being one of the best blues cats on the scene today. If you've never seen him live, get to one of his shows ASAP. You won't regret it.

--- Bill Mitchell


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