tue 26/03/2019

CD: Karl Blau - Introducing Karl Blau | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Karl Blau - Introducing Karl Blau

CD: Karl Blau - Introducing Karl Blau

Terrifically stylish tribute to country’s union with soul music

'Introducing Karl Blau': a tribute to ten great songs

The first reaction to Introducing Karl Blau is to wonder whether it’s an overlooked album from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. It opens with a creamy smooth voice that’s close to cracking with emotion. The song being sung is a version of country singer-songwriter Tom T Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis” which sounds as though it was recorded at Alabama’s FAME studios at least 45 years ago. With gently funky guitar, shuffling drums and a slightly deeper vocal register, the next track, “Six White Horses”, bears the influence of Tony Joe White.

As the album progresses it becomes clear that each track is a cover version. The songs of Link Wray, Tom Rush – it is brave to tackle his “No Regrets” – Townes van Zandt and The Bee Gees (“To Love Somebody”) are showcased. At times, the singer has a yearning edge of Johnny Rivers of “Poor Side of Town”. Karl Blau is an evocative, masterful singer.

This extraordinarily lovely album is not a reissue, though. It is a terrifically stylish new tribute to 10 great songs. Blau’s collaborators include Earth’s Steve Moore, My Morning Jacket producer Tucker Martine, their Jim James (who was also integral to Basia Bulat's recent musical reinvention of herself) and Laura Veirs (she sings on the album and took the cover photo). But however it is looked at, this is Blau’s album.

Fittingly, the title is disingenuous. Karl Blau has released a steady string of records over the last two decades and although no household name, he has a strong fan base drawn to his wayward excursions into Brazilian music, folk, hip-hop and more. Despite being a kindred spirit to Beck, Blau lacks the grating and deliberate archness. Introducing Karl Blau is his first country album – a very particular form of country. It explores country’s union with soul music, a musical style usually celebrated by archive compilations.

Of course, all this suggests Introducing Karl Blau is a laboratory-conceived musical experiment formulated to appeal to rock snobs. But books cannot be judged by their covers: just stick this on and let its majestic wonder flow from the speakers.

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