Fish Tree Water Blues
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange by
Fish Tree Water Blues is a benefit CD for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund's campaign to save wild salmon, ancient forests and free-flowing waterways. The disc is composed of 14 audio tracks and a CD-ROM multimedia presentation of Earthjustice Legal Fund's Fish-Tree-Water Campaign, including photographs by noted nature photographers Tony Stone and Galen Rowell and audio snippets from Public Broadcasting reports. Five of the songs are not available anywhere else, being either previously unreleased live material or new recordings for this project.
The album is a nice sampling of tracks, primarily from traditional and contemporary blues artists. Even Ani Difranco's Fuel fits reasonably well among the otherwise solidly blues-based music. With a backbeat characteristic of a good blues jam, Difranco's poem flows seemlessly from the album-opener, the smooth Stone River, written specifically for this collection. Playing the guitar and bass, J.J. Cale eases his way into this blues shuffle, reminiscent of his version of Cocaine, a more electrified hit for Eric Clapton.
Branford Marsalis shows his versatility in joining with Joe Louis Walker on The Road You Choose, with Linda Hopkins on lead vocal. Another pairing features the unmistakable John Lee Hooker (guitar and vocals) and John Hammond (slide guitar and harmonica) for the dirge-like blues of Highway 13. For the blues-rock-band sound, Roomful of Blues offers up Blue Blue World and Robert Cray checks in with a spectacular previously unreleased live performance of The Forecast (Calls for Pain).
Even gospel blues are represented on Fish Tree Water Blues. Backed only by a Hammond B-3, Rock-and-Roll Hall-of-Famer Mavis Staples sings a new version of I'll Fly Away.
Loudon Wainwright III spews some of his most lethal venom with his 1986 track Hard Day on the Planet, a slow blues romp featuring background vocals by Maria Muldaur, Becky Burns, Linda Taylor, and Christine Collister, and string bass by The Richard Thompson Band's Danny Thompson.
With so many versions of Al Green's Take Me to the River available, the mere sight of another cover of this song almost led me to hit the fast-forward button on my CD player. Instead, Bob Weir's Grateful-Dead spinoff band RatDog and harmonica virtuouso Charlie Musselwhite produce a unique version, found only on this compilation. The song reminds the listener of how good the Grateful Dead could be when interpreting others' songs. The album ends appropriately with a powerful live version of the Eagles' Take It to the Limit sung by Etta James. The soulful performance closes the album, much like the exit hymn of an outdoor revival.
Only one oddball manages to make its way into the mix, jarring the listener out of his blues mood. Featuring banjo and fiddle, Alvin Youngblood Hart's old-timey-sounding instrumental, Rollin' River, simply breaks up the bluesy feel to this otherwise thoughtfully assembled collection.
Fish Tree Water Blues is a solid collection of blues-based material, collected from a variety of artists over the last 30 years. The disc is stored in a very attractive cardboard case with a detailed booklet, including thoughts from the different artists on environmental issues and much information about each song. When combined with the proceeds going to a worthwhile cause, this album makes a fine gift for the environmentally conscious blues fan.
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Edited by Paula Gregorowicz