Review: “TLT” by Tiny Legs Tim
The continuum of blues music, from the ‘20s and ‘30s in America’s Deep South on up to the present, is such that it has endured the long years, having been discovered again and again by curious generations of artists and music listeners alike, and has thus inspired revival after revival. The blues scene over the past decade has arguably been at its strongest since its humble beginnings on plantations and in gambling houses, work camps, juke joints, and the like. Though it is a widely held belief, and history certainly suggests it is so, that the birthplace of the blues was Clarksdale, Mississippi, otherwise known as the Delta, it evidently hasn’t been content to stay put over the years. In fact, its exodus has made it a global movement, during which it has found both enthusiasts and practitioners all over the States and in Europe. There are a good many other geographical blues hot spots in addition to those already mentioned (to name them all would be a bit superfluous, however, not to mention a bit off topic). And while one may not think of Belgium as a place where one might happen upon a noteworthy bluesman, this review will prove such assumptions false. That is, this piece is on a Belgian blues artist and one-man band that goes by the very blues-appropriate moniker Tiny Legs Tim.
What constitutes a one-man band? Simply put, a one-man band is a musician or singer/songwriter who plays two or more instruments simultaneously, and may or may not also sing during his or her performance. That being the case, it is then undeniable that Tiny Legs Tim is indeed a one-man band. After all, he plays guitar, works a stomp board with his feet, and sings, all at the same time; a somewhat minimalist one-man band setup, to be sure, but a one-man band setup nonetheless. More than that, however, he should be considered a bluesman, his own bluesman and not an oddly shaped shadow cast by the progenitors of the craft; a bluesman whose sound possesses hints of both old-time blues, prewar style, and more modern styles like North Mississippi Hill Country blues, making for a fairly well-rounded one, with an obvious combination of derivative and original qualities throughout.
After one EP and two self-released studio albums, and a bunch of touring, Tiny Legs Tim is not your average white-boy blues poseur whose songs reek of having been copied from the material of the old blues masters, only poorly executed, only without the heart and guts, the hard-boiled expressiveness and grit. Granted, Tim’s songs can be slightly derivative at times, as I’ve already mentioned, but such has been the nature of blues artists since the very beginning, with both their own compositions and those belonging to their peers. Old blues songs were almost always well traveled, moving from one artist to the other and then another, sometimes so much so that it becomes unclear as to who first wrote a particular song (look at the confusion between Robert Johnson and Elmore James with “Dust My Broom,” for example). All Tiny Legs Tim songs are to one degree or another original, belonging to him and him alone, especially those on his brand new album titled “TLT.” This remarkably talented young man has indeed lived the blues, too, having spent years afflicted with a debilitating illness which left him in agony and musically inactive. His time of suffering is present in his music, in songs like Please Dr. Please, but so too is a sense of hope, a light overcoming the darkness, especially in such lines of lyrics as “nothing in the world can keep me down/Not after all these afflictions.” Speaking of Tim’s lyrics, some of my favorite on the album come from the opening song Can’t Win Them All, which go “I tasted blood and it tastes like iron/It’s the taste of the war you know/They’re burning all the bodies/You can smell it all around,” and then, “It reminds me that ash is/Ash is the best soil to grow/New life is started/Where the forest is burning down.” But there are other topics in his songs, the good and bad experiences and observations, triumphs and failures, pains and pleasures–all of which are so much a part of life.
Why is blues music such a lasting phenomenon? Quite simply, unlike jazz or classical music, the blues are not sophisticated, nor are they meant to be; instead, they are a decidedly unrefined and primitive species of sound, appealing to the howling center of the human animal, not just to the intellect of the well-behaved individual in today’s too-tame society. It is a form of musical expression, the blues, something raw and organic and personal, in whose sound one hears deft finger-picking and slide-work on the guitar, and stirring vocal deliveries which, whether gruff or honeyed, tend to be from the gut. It’s a music more for the proletariat than the bourgeoisie or the person that exists at the highest social stratum; it’s more for the rambling hobo than the comfortable landowner, the criminal than the law-abiding citizen, the down-and-out gambler than the penny-pinching Joe, the sinner than the saint, the afflicted than the healthy, the one who knows hardship and oppression than the one who’s been insulated from such things, and so on. When it comes down to it, true blues songs are not just music; they are the great holy goddamn of the sinner’s soul, the beat beat beating of the worldly heart that has known love and loss in equal measures, the rough ecstasies of the physical body, and the overheated workings of the feverish mind. It is real-life music, usually centered on such everyday subjects as, say, relationship troubles, traveling, gambling, struggles, sex, and death, among other things. Of course, only one out of maybe a hundred or so artists is actually the genuine article–which is to say, this level of the blues is not easy to find anymore; one has to search high and low, determinedly, in order to find a worthwhile bluesman, and even then one isn’t likely to succeed unless one scours the musical underground for the independent and more obscure singer/songwriters. Another reason the real deal is difficult to find, is because…well, to give the long explanation, one can trace the origins of the blues to West Africa, then to having been transported with the unfortunate souls on transatlantic vessels during the mid to late 18th century slave trade, and today, since the civil rights movement, abolition, and finally the most recent era of enlightenment and equality, African-American music has shifted, sadly, from such historically important styles as the blues and jazz to hip-hop and pop-infused R&B. There are still a good many black bluesmen out there in the world today, but the scene seems to be embraced more and more by other ethnic groups, which shows that all sorts can effectively play the blues. All of this is to say that Tiny Legs Tim is a bluesman, the genuine article, with well-written songs that are exactly what blues songs should be.
But I am going on and on. I have strayed from topic here and there. But such discursive and tangential journalism is, in this writer’s opinion, a four-course meal for a hungry mind, rather than the meager serving of stale bread and mystery meat of prison chow, metaphorically speaking. Such a way of conveying information, in other words, is considerably more satisfying. Still, I’ve done that quite enough here, and it’s time to bring this thing to an end.
So, in closing this review…
Tiny Legs Tim’s “TLT” is definitely a worthy addition to any blues enthusiast’s collection. It is an impressive album altogether, whose ten songs honor old-time blues, prove a credit to the present incarnation of the blues, and are definitely an encouraging sign of the blues to come.