Out here in the swamps and bayous of the tiny little out-of-the-way burg we call Los Angeles exist a number of fairly well-known blues venues packing in the big names, but some of the best music issues instead from the dives, seaside saloons, and backalley holes. A few years back, Barry Levenson released a marvelously bona fide CD, Heart to Hand, reflecting not only his work with Lowell Fulsom, PeeWee Crayton, Big Mama Thornton, and a host of others, but placing a spotlight on the electric side of his well-honed hand. Levenson's pretty much a purist when it comes to black blues but, trust me as one of many connoisseurs of the dirty-white side of the house, it was immensely pleasing to us as well, perfectly blending the two much as the best 70s Brits had.
The other day, Bernie Pearl's agent, knowing my affinities, asked if I'd like to try out his new CD. Sure, said I and I'm now rather embarassed I had no real knowledge of the guy beforehand, but....holy sweet Marie, gawdammit this guy is a phenomenon! However, where Levenson's a flatpicker, Pearl's a fingerpicker and an awesome one at that. More, he cleaves very tightly to the trad roots of the genre, which is how he, like Levenson, played for Thornton, Crayton, and Fulsom, then moved on to Freddie King, Albert Collins, Big Joe Turner, and a mean mess of others. No one, and I mean no one, can fake it and play with those gods and goddesses, so Pearl's the real deal and then some.
He sticks to classics but not standards, though he makes his choices seem so. Covering Lipscomb, MacDowell, Boyd, and others, the ace guitarist turns in a set of peformances riveting the listener with their technical finesse, jaw-dropping chops, and ungodly authenticity. His sole original, Blues for Lightnin', is an instrumental and a sheer pleasure, but it's in Rocks and Gravel Boogie that you'll at times swear there are two guitarists, lead and rhythm. T'ain't so, Jerome, it's only Pearl his own damn self and then bassist Mike Barry, who is, through much of the gig, as slow and lazy a lower register hound dawg as can be found, nicely laying down the firmament for his partner's dazzling picking. 61 Highway repeats the feat, and more than once you'll be wide-eyed at the dexterity this guys carries off with ease.
It's difficult to convey in words exactly what constitutes truly soulful blues, so let me just opine that the big name white boys are missing out here…BIG TIME. Pearl should be guesting with the Stones or Peter Green and Nigel Watson, and I'll bet Rory Gallagher, rest his maverick soul, would've considered it one of the biggest pleasures of his life to have played with this cat. Robert Cray would marvel and the aging first-line masters, what few of them are left, would be very happy knowing the tradition will not be neglected. There's so much here, and the closest I last heard to it all was in Leon Redbone calmly setting the house on fire in his virtuoso spots on Saturday Night Live and a couple of other very striking television guestings. Recall the infamous Jamming With Edward LP (Jagger, Cooder, Hopkins, Wyman & Watts) and you'll be somewhat in the arena, but I guarantee there won't be many times in your life you'll hear blues like this.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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