I first noticed the name, John Alexander, in the credits of the latest Doghouse Roses album where he contributed some fine guitar. And then this album, Of These Lands, popped through the post with some roles reversed, Doghouse Roses’ Paul Tasker and Iona McDonald credited with vocals and guitar on some of the songs. Their presence certainly ticked some boxes, marking the album as one to have a good listen to but, and I think it’s fair to say, I wasn’t expecting the rollin’ and tumblin’ excitement that was to follow.
Alexander is a Scottish musician but he’s welded to and wades in muddy waters, the delta sort to be more accurate. Some of the songs on the album follow in the line that stretches from Taj Mahal to Keb’ Mo’ with a vibrant attachment to country blues, the guitars evincing a spritely fingerpicking blues style while Alexander’s voice has a very fine smoke stained patina that at times sends chills up the spine. The best example here is on the spooky Hallowed Ground (with Tasker on slide guitar) which recalls the magisterial ground zero of old time blues, Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground. It’s the starkest moment on the album but the voodoo swampiness of Meet Me Where The River Flows (with Jim McDermott on drums and Nicholas Blythe on bass), the zinging guitar sparks of Take The Blame and the fiery solo rendition (with Alexander on acoustic and electric guitars) of All My Angels Have Fallen are rooted in the blues tradition with the latter recalling the late John Campbell.
Less one think this is just a blues album Alexander has some more tricks up his sleeve. An accomplished guitarist he is able to cross the ocean from the Mississippi delta back to the motherland and in particular those artists who picked up on blues traditions and transformed them into a sixties folk blues boom. Hence we have the nimble A Little Daylight which with its vocal harmonies could easily have sat within a Pentangle album while Used To Be A Friend Of Mine sounds like an outtake from an early John Martyn album. Seven Cold Curses takes a slight curve into a rootsier Americana with a whiff of Townes Van Zandt while Hold On is a powerful and taut ballad that recalls the dustier edges of 70’s country rock such as Guy Clark or Steve Young. On the closing This Side Or The Other Alexander draws all of his influences together as his grainy voice demands, “a double shot of whisky and a ham on rye”. The song is a laid back and wonderful conglomeration of folk and blues (and beyond), Greenwich Village meets the delta and a smoky London town. A delightful end to a very fine album.
There’s an album release show at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe this Friday, 19th May. Tickets here