Chances are you’ve heard at least one Paul Reddick song, even if you don’t know it. That’s his “I’m a Criminal” playing in the Coca-Cola commercial where the guy’s stealing sips at the fountain drink machine. Harmonica and guitar stretch out as Reddick sings of a life of crime, and even if it didn’t have the commercial’s amusing visuals helping out, “I’m a Criminal” ranks as one of the best original blues cuts to come out in a long time. Taken from from 2001’s Rattlebag, it also shows that Reddick—an artist praised for his thoughtful lyrics and fondness for field recordings and early blues forms—can fry some amps when he wants to.
Rattlebag got Reddick a fair amount of attention in the blues world, garnering three Maple Blues Awards (including Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year) and nominations for both W.C. Handy Awards and Juno Awards. He even had songs placed on Due South and Dawson’s Creek, of all places. So no one would have blamed Reddick and the Sidemen for keeping on with what was working. 2004’s Villanelle, however found him exploring acoustic blues on his own, showing his appreciation for pre-War styles.
Anyone familiar with the Northern Blues label, though, shouldn’t be surprised by that sort of thing. If you’ve heard a few discs from the Northern Blues roster, you know that they’re not very interested in artists limited to a same-old-same-old approach to the blues.
Revue collects the best of Reddick’s output with the Sidemen, as well as his solo turn on Villanelle, shining a spotlight on the variety that’s marked his career. “2nd Street”, with its clattery steel guitar, sounds like an energetic J.J. Cale track, while “Rattlebag” settles into a muscular Texas shuffle. “Template Blues” is anything but the cookie-cutter song its name implies, relying on the contributions of the Rhythm & Truth Brass Band (who also show up on “Queens Hotel” and the slinky “Rosemary”). His cover of Little Walter’s “You Know It Ain’t Right” (one of two previously unreleased cuts) is a pure pedal-to-the floor harmonica & guitars workout, while his take on Johnny Cash’s “Train of Love” chugs along on slide guitar, boogie woogie piano, and Reddick’s accomplished harmonica playing. Name about any blues style you can think of, and Reddick tackles it.
Reddick apparently got bitten by the blues bug at the age of 12, becoming obsessed with the music of blues greats like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. To his credit, there’s little, if any, mimicry going on here. Reddick’s entered the Hall of Influences and come out the other side with his own style, one that can throw an effective curve now and then. Even “I’m a Criminal”, which initially seems like a sterling blues workout, contains snatches of the lyrics spoken in a whisper behind the ringing guitars and wailing harmonica, giving a menacing undercurrent to lyrics that could otherwise be perceived as mere posing and bravado.
Revue stands as an excellent introduction to Reddick, an artist who thinks about the blues he plays every bit as much as he feels them.
// Notes from the Road
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