Normally a “blues” album wouldn’t be at the front of the queue for a review on Blabber’n’Smoke. Sure enough, we do love some down and dirty slide guitar and where would we be today with the likes of The Wolf, Muddy Waters and their likes who amped up one of the main strains of American roots music? Anyhow, Kat Danser demanded our attention for two reasons. Firstly, she’s a she and it’s been a long time since we heard anything bluesy which wasn’t loaded with testosterone and in addition, she has a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology so we reckon she knows her stuff. Secondly, the album is released by Black Hen Music, a badge mark of quality these days, and sure enough, Black Hen lynchpin, producer and guitarist Steve Dawson, is involved.
Danser has one of those “take no prisoners” voices, earthy, sassy and proud. In addition, she swings, and the album swings with her. This is no twelve bar blues workout. Rather, Danser roams around blues, gospel and soul while adding some fine seasoning derived from New Orleans and Cuba. Two saxes and a trumpet power through many of the songs while Dawson excels on guitar.
The album kicks off with the steady rolling strut of Way I Like It Done. The horns and delightful barrelhouse piano drive the song as Danser sets her stall out with some humour. Lonely & The Dragon next prowls into view, a crawling king snake of a song with opium undertones, it allows Danser to intoxicate the listener amidst some very cool organ riffs. Had she followed up with more songs in a similar idiom then we would have been quite satisfied but instead Danser diversifies. Bring It With You When You Come is a cover of a Gus Cannon song given a Jelly Roll Morton like delivery and New Orleans looms large in the swaying syncopation of Frenchman Street Shake with Dawson’s slide guitar recalling Ry Cooder. Jesse Mae Hemphill’s Get Right Church meanwhile sees Danser heading into a Mavis Staples’ direction and here, we really have to say that the arrangement, the guitar and parping horns, are quite magnificent. Also recalling the Staples, and in particular, Pops’ last album, End Of Days is another soulful slice of brilliance with a perfectly judged and excellently played arrangement.
Please Don’t Cry harks back to early sixties romance with the band playing in a manner which is reminiscent of those Louisiana pop records compiled by Charlie Gillett on Another Saturday Night while the closing Mi Corazon heads further south with its Cuban inspired rythym. Altogether, this is quite excellent although there is one song on the album which, to our mind, is somewhat out of joint. One Eye Closed finds Danser diving into a 1976 punk inspired rant with the band following suit sounding for all the world like a second division punk band. Sorry to say but had this been tucked in at the end as a “hidden” track, then it wouldn’t have been as obtrusive.