There are times, listening to this album, you start to feel guilty - surely, if music sounds this good, it must be bad for you. But give yourself permission to indulge in Son of Dave's sensuous symphony of sin.
Son of Dave looks as if he has stepped out of a black and white Forties B-movie, in which he plays one of those Pinkerton private eyes who take pictures of suspected adulterers and their paramours as they slip out of backstreet hotels. Still wearing the same suit and trilby, he sits on stage with a huge microphone in one hand, a harmonica in the other, and a box of tricks on the floor, which he steps on as he starts to play. He hits the pedal twice more and the room is filled with a rhythmic loop of harmonica breaths, over which he proceeds to sing and talk, suck and blow, mutter and mumble.
Drawn in by the mystery - what is he doing? How does he do it? - the listener is fascinated, captivated but disturbed. What might have been a novelty act is much darker and sometimes uncomfortable. Is there madness in his method?
Twice before, Son of Dave recorded albums that were respectful of his live show but, disappointingly, missed the point. Third time out, he and producer Alex McGowan have not only nailed the live act, they've gone further, creating a monster that could be a challenge to replicate on stage. Although there isn't much going on, with plenty of gaps between each vocal line, the whole thing sounds both huge and full of space.
'Ain't going to Nike Town,' declares the singer on 'Nike Town', defiant but measured, 'ain't going to Vegas.' Then he gets seriously demented as he screams, 'You can take me, shake me, but you can't make me.' He could be a six-year-old child screaming at its mother, or an anti-war protester struggling as she's bundled into the back of a police van. Whatever your cause, here's your anthem.
Each couplet in 'Lover Not a Fighter' could stand on its own, but the one that catches my attention every time is: 'That's why I'm up there on this riser, yeah, selling records for the Kaiser.' But before you have time to absorb it, the chorus returns to pull you in: 'Give it up, if you wanna be a lover, put your toys away.'
Just as you start wondering when was the last time a major pop act featured harmonica, Son of Dave answers the question by doing 'Low Rider', a hit in 1975 for War. In some ways, the album feels like a throwback to an even earlier time, to Chicago blues clubs of the mid-Fifties, when Little Walter blew counterpoint melodies to Muddy Waters's lead vocals and Jimmy Reed played both guitar and mouth harp.
But the album also gives a glimpse into the future, when technology has been reclaimed from the technicians and is once again a do-it-yourself tool for people with something to say. Son of Dave has plenty to say, and this is his triumphant manifesto. -- Observer Music Monthly Sunday April 20 2008