Bought For A Dollar Sold For A Dime CD
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Blues, soulful vocals, dub, reggae, gospel in a space where the dirt roads of the Deep South meet the shiny lanes of the Information Superhighway. Skip 'Little Axe' McDonald, the legendary blues guitarist, might not have sold his soul at the crossroads, but he's looked both ways down the road of the old blues, up the highway of the future before proceeding. After a series of studio-based albums, Little Axe have returned to their roots on Bought For a Dollar, Sold For a Dime. For the first time in seventeen years the original crew came together in the Big Room at Real World for this rare and privileged session, with McDonald and his co-producer, British dub maestro Adrian Sherwood. Featuring soul singer Bernard Fowler, drummer Keith LeBlanc, bassist Doug Wimbish, all of whom made up the seminal British outfit, Tackhead (1987 1991), a band whose pioneering devices are now integral aspects of rap and pop. LeBlanc, Wimbish and McDonald had previously blazed a trail as The Sugarhill Gang, house band of the famed early '80s rap label Sugar Hill Records; they were, quite probably, the most important rhythm section on the planet. Real World's state-of-the-art facilities opened its arms to other collective regulars, and the result is a live album, Little Axe-style.
After nearly two decades of blues re-invention, singer/guitarist Skip McDonald has perfected his particular and peculiar metamorphosis of the form. Is Little Axe a band or an alternative name for McDonald himself? It's quite possibly both, as every live appearance possesses a very strong group vibration. McDonald now prefers the stance of grizzled bluesman from Dayton, Ohio, but his prime breakthrough came as a member of Sugar Hill Records' in-house band, and had formed Tackhead by the time the mid-80s arrived.
Regardless of whether his assumed 'authenticity' is similar to that sought by born-again bluesman Keb' Mo', it's not really an issue when McDonald clearly embraces the form with authority, creativity and innovation. A massive part of the already massive Little Axe sound has always been provided by dub-king producer Adrian Sherwood, his influence so sonically pervasive that he counts as an equal collaborator. The old master-crew is assembled for these sessions in Peter Gabriel's Real World studio: bassist Doug Wimbish, drummer Keith LeBlanc and soaring singer Bernard Fowler. There are also two guest vocal spots from Jamaican veteran Ken Boothe. Less familiar, but still crucial to this album is harmonica player Alan Glen, whose stinging trills lift up nearly every song.
The feedback avenues are now beyond easy tracking, as old blues elements are channelled through fresh techniques. There are even versions of two Tackhead songs, further confusing the lineage between old-timey rural foot-clumping and shining 1980s funk-hop beats. There's a reading of the song popularised by long-departed down-home bluesman Son House: his Grinnin' In Your Face is shortened to Grinning.
The album opens and closes with 50-second mini-songs, their gospel traits swirling into the heavens. Most of the remaining bulk favours a much longer six-minute average within which to slink and saunter, emanating a spellbinding aura. The distinctive Little Axe sound is a dreamy miasma, creaming up elements of funk, rock, soul and gospel. It's perpetually intertwining into a genre weave. The vocal layers build up a call-and-response thickness, and a couple of tunes even hint at ska and reggae rhythms. The cumulative slowness begins to take on the feel of an imaginary Funkadelic ballad collection.
The guitars are always draped in exotic echo, held in perpetual slow motion, except for when Hammerhead gets to sludge-truckin' and Return proves itself the hardest and heaviest track. By this time, there's a beautifully sustained flotation in place. --Martin Longley
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Top Customer Reviews
The organic composition of the record makes for a warm and generally mellow experience, leaving behind many of the harsher elements of earlier dub experiments.
Some of the material is instantly familiar. "Soul Of A Man" first appeared on Little Axe's debut album "The Wolf That House Built", this new version emerging as a real song as opposed to the bolted-together patchwork of the original. "Grinning" , previously encountered on "Champagne and Grits", is an alternative reworking of Son House's "People Grinning In Your Face" and also benefits greatly from the live production.
Elsewhere, McDonald and Daby Toure resume the memorable collaboration started on last year's joint EP "Call My Name" with the soaring "Tell Me Why", whilst "Another Friend Gone" is pure undiluted gospel, and the massed voices on "Hammerhead" power an impressively insistent blues groove.
When all is said and done, there is the nagging feeling that maybe a few too many rough edges were smoothed over in the studio, and in songwriting terms perhaps there aren't quite as many out-and-out gems as on previous albums, but these are small quibbles in what is otherwise again a quality release from one of the most consistent and original exponents of the blues around.