Blues Bytes


October 2006

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Michael Powers
Prodigal Son
Baryon Records

Michael Powers

Two years ago, few people outside of the New York area had heard of Michael Powers, but his 2004 debut changed all that....and how. Onyx Root ended up on several Best of 2004 lists and also received two Blues Music Awards nominations in 2005 (for Best New Artist Debut and Contemporary Blues Album of the Year), mostly due to Powers’ uncanny ability to mix and mesh various styles of music into his own unique vision of the blues. As a youngster, he not only listened to blues artists like Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Lightnin’ Hopkins from his mother‘s collection, but he also absorbed the sounds of ’60s blues rockers like Jimi Hendrix, the Yardbirds, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones.

As impressive as Onyx Root was, Powers’ amazing second effort for Baryon Records, Prodigal Son, surpasses it. As on his previous effort, Powers tackles a mixture of covers and originals. The original tracks are very strong, with the best being the title cut, a moody masterpiece of blues imagery that might nab Powers that Blues Music Award next spring. The funky workout “White Lightning” is also noteworthy, as is “Wild Side” and “Lay The Hooch”, a pair of spirited blues-rockers, and “Compassion“ a mellow acoustic instrumental (with Jimmy Vivino on dobro) that might remind you a bit of “Little Martha“-era Allmans.

Solid as his original tracks are, it’s the cover tunes that are the real revelation on Prodigal Son. To say that Powers “covers” these tunes is misleading. He actually remolds and reshapes them to the point that they seem like his own compositions. He tears into “Goin’ Down” with boundless enthusiasm, but his take on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “It’s A Bloody Life” is more introspective than the original version. Jimmy Reed’s “Oh John” gets a reverential makeover and features some great guitar from Powers. The recently deceased Arthur Lee’s bluesy lament, “Signed D.C.” is breathtaking, but Powers’ soulful interpretation of Dylan’s early ‘80s inspirational gem, “Every Grain of Sand,” is as good a Dylan cover as you’ll ever hear, faithful to the original, but innovative at the same time. Powers’ cover of the Rev. Gary Davis’ “You Got To Go Down” is also a standout, and Tiny Bradshaw‘s swinging “Train Kept A Rollin’” features a rocking arrangement that’s more in line with the Yardbirds version from the mid ’60s and closes the disc in fine fashion.

Prodigal Son is nothing less than a picture of an artist at the top of his game. Michael Powers has brought together his many influences and combined them with his own style and vision into something both unique and irresistible. Pass this one up at your own risk.

--- Graham Clarke


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