I sometimes irritate labels and agents through a policy I've held in order to be fair to all musicians: reviewing submissions in the order they're received. For 20+ years I held to that...and then was sent Steve Khan's *Parting Shot* (here). Khan's music is so unique, something I just can't wait to hear, that I jumped the disc to the front of the line, which is usually quite long, even against my own protestations. That, I figured was the one and only time I'd ever do THAT!...and then Bernie Pearl sent Sittin' on the Right Side of the Blues, and hell if I'm going to wait even three seconds to get to his stuff, so, looking fore and aft to detect lurkers waiting to bust me on my own ethics, I jumped it, sat straight down, listened, and wrote, grinning from ear to ear. We all know that breaking the rules often rewards very very well indeed.
I was at the concert this CD was taken from and was struck, as I always am, at the evolution of Pearl's playing, here with a significant addition to the his normal tendency to dig ever further into historical authenticity while injecting formidable personal voicing. This night's gig, however, featured a surprising folk aspect alongside standard crystal clear evocations of the deepest origins of the blues, wellsprings Bernie is impeccably schooled in, having studied (and studied with) the greats. That was not expected at all, but, on both sides of the fence, from the very first track, Lightning Hopkins' Jailhouse Blues, forward, his guitar work is just stunning no matter what, sophisticated in so many ways that it'd take pages to parse and praise.
I'm happy to announce that Right Side contains six Pearl originals in a lengthy 15-cut 65-minute disc, the first of which, Outside Boogie, is almost shocking, an abstractly modernist blues dipping into old T.S. McPhee by way of a down-home Philip Glass seriality. Now, if you think for a second that such a move violates eldritch rules, then you really don't understand the blues because a lot of the masters loved to get angular and explore possibilities in chromaticism and beyond, whether instrumentally or vocally. One need travel no further than Chuck Berry on guitar or Muddy and Wolf in their magnificent pipes to know that. I'd even contend such exercises influenced geniuses like Roland Kirk in his own lofty jazz extremities.
And it was, in fact, my ensorcelment with Pearl's 2007 Somebody Got to Do It that ignited a personal re-examination and deeper appreciation of the original true blues. One thing led to another and now I'm checking out all the old musics with new ears (just picked up a 10-CD Sidney Bechet box the other day). That's what genuine art is supposed to do: develop thirst and hunger in the audience but also simultaneously satisfy both. And I suppose, in all journalistic ethicality, I should've prefaced this review with the fact that I wrote the liner notes to *Right Side*, but...well, read my previous reviews here, here, here, and here (and to get the best sense of Pearl's luster) and then consider: given Bernie's sterling history and the fact that he'll, hopefully on a day a hell of a long way from now, still be honing his immaculate chops beyond the grave, was it really a necessity? Defensive protestations of an impossibility to pen anything but vaulting praise in such rare instances are a foregone conclusion; I therein rest my case and absolve myself in a single penstroke.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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