I popped the new CD from Oregon teenager David Jacobs-Strain in my disc player, expecting to hear still another young 'Stevie Ray Vaughan wannabe.' Instead, my ears were treated to some of the finest acoustic guitar wizardry I've heard in a long, long time. To put it bluntly, this kid can flat out play!
On the incredible Stuck On The Way Back, Jacobs-Strain's fourth CD (not bad for someone still shy of 20 years old), the listener is struck by this young man's talents on guitar as well as the depth of his vocals. He pulls you in right away on the opening cut, the original "River Was Green," defying anyone not to tap their feet along to this energetic number.
Jacobs-Strain does an exceptionally good cover of R.L. Burnside's "Poor Black Mattie," highlighted by Peter Joseph Burtt's accompaniment on an African stringed instrument called a kora. The kora sounds similar to a mandolin, but with a heavier tone.
I've always considered it a compliment for any six-string guitarist to be compared to Leo Kottke, whose guitar work I've admired for more than 25 years. Here, Jacobs-Strain evokes memories of some of Kottke's best work, especially on the instrumental number "Sidewalk Rag" and "Old Man Dancing," the latter on which he brings out a more resonant tone on the guitar.
Burtt returns on "Black And Blue," this time with another instrument, the mbira, with African origins. Jacobs-Strain does some of his best vocal work on this number which, like seven of the 12 songs here, is an original composition.
Jacobs-Strain plays very nasty slide guitar on the ethereal deep blues, "Wild Bill Jones." Another number closer to the straight blues genre is the frantic work song, "Linin' Track," given a real ol' timey feel.
The most intense number on Stuck On The Way Back is "Cold Mountain Blues," a slow blues with emotional singing from Jacobs-Strain.
An ongoing concern of mine is that young kids aren't learning to play the blues anymore. But, with performers like David Jacobs-Strain and fellow NorthernBlues artist JW-Jones, my fears may be unfounded ... it's just that many of the hot new blues artists today seem to be releasing their albums north of the border.
--- Bill Mitchell
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