Seasick Steve

I Started Out With Nothing and I Still Got Most of it Left

Organic to the foot of every blue soaked note. Here we meet the real deal. 40 years in a hobo hell (well, mostly) this 60-something Californian who saw Nirvana close up and carries heavy punk credentials, is as near as we get to the downbeat blues legends of the lost great age.

Talk about earning your chops. Even though blessed with a sizeable record deal and currently ensconced in the rural loveliness of Norfolk – as close as he can get in England to his wife’s native Norway, he retains his impassioned howl. His research has been the bad end of blue collar America, flirting with genuine poverty and skimming through bars and surging emotion.

The world from which he eventually emerged cared not a jot for his talent, nor his intelligence or heart. So here it all is, packed into a follow up album that only suffers mildly from the gloss of expensive recording.

That said, this remains resolutely a self-production affair, with 14 songs which surge through rage and tenderness, occasionally swaying towards the kind of chooglin’ swamp, worthy of a Fogerty as well as the thump and drive of John Lee Hooker. But this is wider than straight blues album and, therein lies the true future potentials. There are moments such as ‘Just Like a King’ that blast through to bigger sound reminiscent of Neil Young’s ‘Are You Ready for the Country’ of the dirty growl of the punky ‘St Louis Slim’.

He heralds a number of weapons. Not least his affable raconteur nature – which is neatly tempered here, presumably to help retain freshness. (anecdotes don’t stand repeated plays). His voice is delightfully raw and capable of dipping to speech at any given moment.

“This is a song about nothing…. that’s what it’s about… nothing’” he states at the album’s beginning and the listener is left in no doubt that it is about a great deal of things mostly associated with the owning of ‘nothing’. How refreshing to hear this from the mouth of one who knows exactly what he is talking about.

His primary weapon is the deft control of a guitar, so obviously the result of a man who has had to literally sing for his supper. Therein lies the rub, It is the street suss of a survivor that keeps these songs short, sharp and effectively free from the remotest hint of over indulgence. Get in there, entertain, grab the money, get out. That almost cynical sense of workmanship is at the heart of Seasick Steve…and if that turns people away then bear in mind, it is the same ethos that powered BB King or John Lee Hooker. This aint no muckin’ about.

There are a few signs of stardom within this collection. Most notably within the list of collaborators. Ruby Turner, KT Tunstall, Nick Cave all make shadowy appearances, although they are far from obvious.

There are also a few unexpected gems. It might be controversial of me but, genuinely, I believe the cover of The Box Tops ‘The Letter’ is definitive, a notion that might leave Joe Cocker fans reeling. However the force of the rhythmic push on that particular track is genuinely thrilling.

The extended (‘slightly’ deluxe version) offers a bonus disc containing a further six songs. To some extent, I prefer to ignore them as the two closing tracks on disc one, ’Levy Camp Blues’ and the lengthy anecdote of ‘Roll and Tumble Blues’ seem to be the perfect summary of all the good things that have preceded them. It’s almost a reprise, as the music surges backwards, through all those flickering influences from the fringe of music… the fringe of life.

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