I've been a fan of Scott Ainslie for several years now so I thought that I new what I was getting into by reviewing his latest work, Thunder's Mouth. I put the disc into the player and in seconds took it back out to be sure this really was a Scott Ainslie CD. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Scott was about but this new work is a definite departure from my previous exposure to this wonderful traditional musician. Admittedly, my second reaction was something akin to, "Oh, no! What has he done!" but I sat and I listened and re-listened to Thunder's Mouth and recognized the genius Scott Ainslie has brought to this offering.
The team Ainslie assembled to make this happen includes a Grammy winning cellist, a Cajun guitar master, a powerhouse sideman and a Grammy winning engineer. The individual cuts range from solo Scoot and guitar to more dense soundscapes with dark undertones that evoke deep and blue emotions. There are ten tracks included; 4 originals, 5 blues covers and one Tom Waits tune.
That's the bare bones description but the real story here is what I found in the re-listening. Once I got over myself and my expectations, once I took the time to listen to what Scott is trying to say to us, I heard one of the most wonderful efforts at building a bridge between the traditional and the contemporary that I have ever encountered. This is absolutely no small feat. To start with you feet hundreds of years ago and wind up with your head in the now has been a goal that many have failed in realizing.
The opening track, the one that first made my head spin is a cover of JB Lenoir's, Down In Mississippi. Scott's vocal on this is remarkable subtle and relaxed. I don't remember hearing it sounding this good before. But the low-keyed and natural strength in his voice has a seductive quality that made this tune get stuck in my head for days. I'd wake in the morning hearing the painful refrain over and over.
He does it again on the second tune, a cover of Son House's, Grinnin' In Your Face. There is probably no way that anyone could approach this song in the manner or style of Son House. Scott treats it with a relaxed and sincere delivery that allows him to claim it and make it his own.
People not familiar with Ainslie may not know that along with being a stellar musician, he studies many aspects of African-American and African music and culture. It's not an uncommon affliction among traditional musicians. Ainslie's original song, I Should Get Over This is based around some field recordings from west Africa. Beautifully structured and arranged it lightens the mood just a bit before he goes into Robert Johnson's, Dust My Broom.
This version of Dust My Broom is strong and by earlier standards would have stood much taller. It is the only tune in the collection that falls close to what I "expected" from Scott.
Earlier standards… Scott Ainslie has raised the standards of what to expect from him by several degrees. And, so, I wind up again saying, "Oh, no! What has he done!" I'm not sure but I sure hope he keeps it up.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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