Blues can be a hard sell. Even in these days of alt-country and acoustic folk crossing over into the commercial mainstream, blues is a relatively neglected genre of American roots music; it makes you wonder how Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Cray, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds were able to sell so many records in the synth-fueled ‘80s.
However, Australian blues vocalist Dee Lavell’s mélange of blues, soul, and classic rock has the potential of reeling in the unenlightened. The difficulty blues music seems to be having in attracting a new audience is that it sounds old; to the kids, it’s more ancient than Elvis Presley, and he’s been dead for nearly 40 years. On her new album Mama Told Me, Lavell’s focus is on the songs themselves and the stories they tell; although the musicianship is impressive throughout, this isn’t a record about showing off chops. On “Broken Down,” Lavell sings with the plaintive crooning of Carly Simon in her prime. When a relationship falls apart, there is that sense of everything around it similarly breaking into pieces: “The moon don’t shine/The clouds are crying.”
Nevertheless, it’s not all about sadness and regret for Lavell. “Get On Over” is brimming with the sultry swagger and badass attitude of Raitt, and “Friday Night” is a party anthem that clearly doesn’t forget that the best blues goes well with booze. Gospel influences unexpectedly make their presence, adding spice to an already emotionally charged and utterly thrilling release.
(Dee Lavell will be participating in Blues Women International in Clarksdale, TN. Check out http://blueswomenintl.com for further details.)