MARE EDSTROM – Shake ‘em on Down
After a lifelong career in music that included a stint as an opera singer, concert pianist, and a member of rock bands, Waterford’s Mare Edstrom finally found her calling in interpretive blues and the singer/songwriter vein. Edstrom teamed up with guitar virtuoso Kenn Fox in 2002 and that partnership has helped spawn a performing duo and a series of recorded works on Fox’s Spiritone Records. Edstrom’s first release in 2003 paid homage to singer/songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt, Greg Brown and Janis Ian. Her first real success came with Inside the Blues in 2004, a collection of blues interpretations that received critical acclaim and fairly widespread radio play. Her newest album, Shake ‘em on Down, is already duplicating that feat.
The combination of Edstrom’s unique vocal approach to the blues and Fox’s production work and guitar mastery make for an enticing listening experience. In addition to Fox, Edstrom has a crack band assembled here including Dave Finley on bass, Jeff Maylan and Steve Broad on drums and Steve Cohen (Greg Koch, Jim Liban and others) on harmonica. Brothers Tim (vocalist) and Tom (upright bass) Angsten (Hello Hello and formerly Green Flash Society) also appear as does Nob Hill Boys’ banjoist John Peik.
Only a few moments of the opening track, Blind Willie McTell’s “Broke Down Engine,” are required to understand that Edstrom looks at the blues from another angle. The beat gets taken down to half-speed and Fox’s spooky open-tuned slide guitar makes this a haunting and riveting track. The title track, penned by Bukka White, is a barrelhouse blues-rocker, easily the source of at least two Led Zeppelin tunes. So it’s fitting that Edstrom includes a version of Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks.” Also fittingly, it’s given a zydeco twist and a boogie beat.
Lennon and McCartney’s “Oh, Darlin’” is delivered with a soulful fifties-style croon. Fox gets a chance to blaze on electric guitar on “Trouble Blues” and his swinging composition “Sugar” is the album’s only diversion from blues classics. The finale is another totally unique take, this time on “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” featuring Peik’s banjo and Fox’s excellent fingerstyle guitar. The whole album’s common thread is, of course, Edstrom’s voice. She doesn’t bring the power or the growl as much as she pays sincere homage and adds a touch of honey, which is the refreshing approach that makes these recordings stand out.
Edstrom’s next project is already underway, another homage to singer/songwriters such as Tom Waits, Kevin Welch, Toni Price, and Jesse Colin Young. The album is also said to include some more Fox compositions. Edstrom has a knack for reinterpreting great works in both these genres and the albums are not only a lot of fun but can actually become somewhat of a history lesson. Hearing Shake ‘em on Down makes me wonder what she and Fox could be capable of in producing an album of strictly original compositions. Perhaps we won’t have to wait long for an answer to that question.