12 June 2020 (released)
15 May 2020
To many people Stephen Dale Petit is a marmite figure. Not pure Blues enough for some and not really rock enough for others but his 'New Blues' sits somewhere on the borders of both.
His playing can be abrasive, verging on aggressive, but his talent is unquestioned. I think he is the most flexible and one of the most skilled axe men of his generation but there are also those who decry his ability to move between forms and his assertiveness.
A couple of years ago he was seen about everywhere and after delivering one of the best live albums of all time - 'Stephen Dale Petit At High Voltage' – and following up with ‘Cracking The Code’ he suddenly went rather quiet. This is his fifth album and comes after a dreadful bout with cancer where he was given only a short time to live but is now clear and back to doing what he is best at – powerful and edgy Blues music.
There are thirteen tracks here, most written by Petit - all except a wicked version of 'Long Tall Shorty' and Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Soul Of A Man’ - and he demonstrates a veritable encyclopaedia of the Blues with tracks that range from the outrageous to the outraged and into sweetly played Blues and even rock & roll.
It is probably his hardest hitting album to date, feeling as though he has embraced the rock side of his soul but never forgetting the Blues.
I came to this album with some queries as to whether he would be the same after his cancer but it seems to have given him the freedom to play just about whatever he wants with no inhibitions.
The album feels almost prophetic. It was finished recording in December 2019 when almost no-one had heard of Coronavirus or imagined the effect of pandemic on our modern integrated society, yet he seems to mirror what is happening now and the blistering anger at the state of leadership in the modern world is visceral.
Kicking off with the title track, his guitar howls over drummer Jack Greenwood’s hammerblow drums while the throbbing basslines from Sophie Lord give the number a heartbeat. Petit’s vocals howl as strongly as his guitar – this is Blues for times of revolution, not evolution.
He follows up with ‘The Fall Of America’, another chilling and powerful number, at times verging on the psychedelic and with Petit’s guitar(s) going through exquisite agonies. The central riff is hypnotic and when matched against strings the result is darkly impressive.
The album isn’t all as aggressive as those numbers – for example ‘Roxie’s Song’ – featuring wonderful vocals from Shemelia Copeland and harp from Paul Jones - is beautifully melodic with echoes of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and ‘On Top’ has the jaunty walking-Blues feel of a man who is happy with life. But then compare that against ‘Raw’ which has a Petit howling the vocals against a constant beat or ‘Zombie Train’ with it’s eighties feel.
Overall it is an album that shows many sides of Petit from his power and anger to his vision and sensitivity.
There really isn’t a weak song on the album and after listening a few times I finally get the sequencing. Production from Vance Powell is right on the spot and recording at Sputnik in Nashville should always guarantee a good sound. His playing is superb and in Lord & Greenwood he has a rhythm section that is really up the task, Greenwood especially is a young man who just develops further and further and he has a near symbiotic musical relationship with Petit.
There is enough here that should appeal to almost anyone who is into the Blues and rock. You get Stephen Dale Petit as he wants to be heard - upfront and in your face.