SPENCER BOHREN – Blackwater Music
Blues Review, October 2011
Spencer Bohren, a Wyoming native now based in New Orleans, has traveled all over, yet still possesses a strong sense of place. He mounted an almost never-ending tour throughout the 1980s, but did so in an Airstream trailer with his wife and kids.
In keeping, the spare and simply put Blackwater Music is a family recording in the most complete sense of the word, with son Andre sitting in on drums and piano, wife Marilyn co-writing on the CD opener, and son Django designing the CD package. This homey sense of vernacular makes for a welcome embrace, in particular on a troubadour blues like “Your Home is in My Heart.”
Yet when the album moves into darker themes – as with the opening of “Old Louisa’s Movin’ On” or on “Bad Luck Bone,” with its echoing portent – Bohren’s lived-in authority carries a similar weight. Often accompanied by nothing more than his own Delta-infused guitar stylings, Bohren sings with a humid closeness, like an old friend sharing stories on the other end of the swing on a late-summer night. He recalls bad times and worse, as on the post-Katrina elegy “Has Anyone Seen Mattie?” with its lonesome accompaniment from violinist Matt Rhody. He wonders what it would take to right his many wrongs, as a lapsteel curls around each carefully sung lyric on “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle.” He considers salvation and what comes next on the National steel-driven “Borrowed Time” – referencing again, this shattering memory of a flooded New Orleans: “The water is rising, and the night is deep” – then lets loose another soaring lapsteel moan on “Blackwater Music.”
“Listen to the Wind,” which closes out Blackwater Music, laments a land and a lifestyle, lost forever by the Native Americans. Andre Bohren makes a memorable contribution, adding a thrumming drumscape that sounds like a repeated accusation. Before long, however, Bohren is skipping along with a tuba-honking quartet on “Take Me to Rampart Street,” celebrating a life-saving relationship on “Your Love,” then settling in for a comfy reminiscence on “The Old Homestead.” As happy as he is talented, Spencer Bohren remains that rarest of things, a talent who’s made a life of blues picking.
– Nick DeRiso –