It’s been a banner year for Guy Blakeslee and his one-man blues-rock act, Entrance. His heralded debut disc, The Kingdom of Heaven Must Be Taken by Storm, was released in March, and later that spring he stepped out on the road with indie rock faves Cat Power. After winning over crowds in the US, Cat Power’s Chan Marshall asked Blakeslee to continue with the band for the European leg of the tour, where he was received with equal admiration from audiences and critics.
Blakeslee returned to his Chicago home for the summer, where he decided to sit down with the four-track cassette recorder and get down some of the new material he’d been developing. The result is the newly-released Honey Moan EP (the title changed at the last minute from Simple Song if a search leaves you confused), and if you’re already a fan of Entrance’s rough and twangy blues, you’ll find much to appreciate in Honey Moan. A further development of the direction Blakeslee took with The Kingdom of Heaven , the EP finds him settling into his style with a little more assurance, and a few more traditional elements as well.
Entrance wastes no time reminding you of its rooting in the blues. The opening track, “Honey Moan”, recalls the rich tradition of warped blues records—scratchy and tinny production, bent notes, echoing vocals—that helped give The Kingdom of Heaven its aura of authenticity, no doubt aided here by the lo-fi bedroom recording process. The difference between affectation and honesty, however, is that Blakeslee totally sells it. It’s homage, to be sure, but he makes this music his own. As a song, it also shows Blakeslee finding a more comfortable fit for Entrance’s place in tradition. “Honey Moan” is built on four instruments: an oscillating feedback loop that provides a rhythm track, Blakeslee’s acoustic guitar plucking, his vocals, and the “moan”. The latter is probably the most interesting thing about “Honey Moan”, as Blakeslee uses his dissonant, fuzzy hum to tack the place of an electric guitar in the melody. Where artists like B.B. King used their guitars to “sing”, Blakeslee sings a guitar part. Mixed into his already sliding, warbling acoustic guitar notes and laid over that oscillation, “Honey Moan” goes well beyond what is expected of a one man act and coalesces better than the Kingdom of Heaven tracks that incorporated other instrumentation.
The EP is a mixed bag of innovation like this and standard formulas, giving the impression of Blakeslee going through some warm-ups while he figures himself out. “Honey Moan” is followed by the simple instrumental “Can’t Stop the Winter”, a shuffling piece full of the open-note guitar playing that Blakeslee obviously admires in his blues forefathers, as he credits Robert Johnson and the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sitting on Top of the World” with inspiration for the track . But this is turned around once more in “Lookout!”, which harkens back to his earlier material on such songs as “A Farewell to My Friends” but also has a more pop-formulated approach, sounding the most like the White Stripes that Entrance has yet, albeit without the drums and electric guitar assault.
Honey Moan also finds Entrance performing more covers (his version of Skip James’s “I’m So Glad” was a critical favorite on The Kingdom of Heaven ). He reinterprets the traditional “Careless Love”, adding his own double-recorded lyrics to strained, caterwauling effect. But it’s the version of Robert Johnson’s “Come on in My Kitchen” that’s likely to keep the critics happy this time. Keeping to Johnson’s sparse style, Blakeslee arranges this into a track that feels open and distant while simultaneously filling it with plenty of hooks and instrumental interest.
“Simple Song”, which would have originally lent its title to the EP, is an interpolation of Sylvester Weaver’s “Guitar Rag”, while “Simple Song Pt. 2” finds Blakeslee adding lyrics to turn it into a less-twangy and more sweet (and simple) love song. The final tracks, “Honey Drone” and “Sunrise in Belfast / Sunrise in Christiania”, don’t quite hold the closing interest that “A Farewell to My Friends” did on his debut, but they’re both interesting nonetheless, the latter making use of backwards recording to nearly psychedelic effect and being the most ethereal Entrance material to date.
It may sound prejudicial to say this, but I’ve always been suspicious of white boys singing the blues, especially young white boys. Maybe it’s the result of too many Blues Brothers references, but it’s always seemed like appropriation at most and imitation at worst. Entrance has changed my mind about all of that. Blakeslee is interested in the past, and probably knows more about blues history in his pinky nail than I ever will, but he also convinces you that he’s the genuine deal. He’s managed to tap into the thing that has made blues great for over a century, and his background and his ethnicity have little to do with that. This time around he’s also managed to relax a little, and the near-terrible tension of The Kingdom of Heaven gives way to a more contemplative and easy to enjoy version of Entrance on Honey Moan. Regardless of your tastes or suspicions, Entrance remains one of the most intriguing projects currently making the rounds, and Blakeslee is proving to be a musician of unique and special gifts.
// Notes from the Road
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