Review by Douglas Heselgrave
Doug Cox, Salil Bhatt and company release what may just be the best Blues/ Indian fusion album ever
Albums that attempt to bridge the gap between cultures are often hit and miss affairs. For every successful fusion record like ‘Graceland’ or ‘Dub Qwaali’ there are dozens of well-intentioned collaborations that for a variety of reasons simply don’t work. Whether it’s a case of too many concessions made to accommodate diverse musical ideas - the melodic equivalent of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole - or a lack of creative cohesion on the part of the contributors, it seems as if albums as good as Slide to Freedom’s 20,000 miles are the exception rather than the rule.
20,000 miles is Slide to Freedom’s third release and features the best music they have recorded to date. The band’s first two releases ‘Slide to Freedom’ and ‘Make a better world’ had some great moments on them, but there was an underlying formality and hesitating quality that sometimes prevented the music from soaring as high as it could. There are no such problems this time around and the reason for this is that between the second and third albums, the musicians sound as if they’ve started to relax and worry less about playing ‘fusion’ and more about just playing great music. There is a sense of ease and comfort in the interplay between the musicians that completely transcends the differences in their artistic backgrounds. This is evident right from the opening track – a fabulous version of the Zombies’ ‘Spooky’ in which Cox’s resophonic guitar and Bhatt’s veena coalesce to create a rhythm quite unlike any I’ve ever heard before.
The rest of the album is just as successful. Tunes like ‘still small alaap’, ‘vishwakans’ and ‘anjuman’ that have more of an Indian classical structure fit in perfectly with country and blues influenced tracks like ‘Still Small Voice’ and a cover of Hank Williams’ ‘Angel of Death.’ Each of these latter tracks feature Doug Cox’s musical foil, the amazing Betty Soo on vocals and are, in themselves, reason enough to buy this record. If that wasn’t enough to grab you, Sacred Steel fans should enjoy listening to Calvin Cooke and Darick Campbell’s slide guitars that glide under the surface of many of the songs on the album.
From a strictly musical perspective, the closing track ‘suicslide’ is one of the greatest fusion tracks ever recorded. Gliding effortlessly between Grateful Dead style jams, Coltrane harmonic explorations and pedal to the medal veena solos, it is a ten minute musical adventure that I never wanted to end.
20,000 miles is a serious contender for best Canadian roots record of the year. Here’s hoping that they tour sometime soon.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com