Birchwood, Selwyn – “Pick Your Poison” – [Alligator Records]
When a flute fades in to start off track 1, “Trial By Fire”, on Selwyn Birchwood’s excellent, newest CD, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Within seconds the lap steel guitar pulls in and we are off. Birchwood’s approach is to play off old blues’ styles but to make them his own. Tone is a bit swampy at times, gritty and rough, which is the best. His guttural baritone takes to the forefront of an exceptionally tight four piece outfit: Birchwood on guitar, lap steel and vocals, Regi Oliver on all things sax plus flute, Huff Wright holding it down on bass and Courtney “Big Love” Girlie on drums and percussion. Lyrics are about men loosing their women and drinking through their pain, dealing with alcohol, relationship troubles, with contemporary references like intervention, texting, cell phones. But there is more: songs about the police state and workers in the corporate machine make us remember we are in the end of the second decade of the 21st Century. Through all of this, though, there is a southern church feel, a religious tone that is not overbearing but is apparent. It’s not bludgeoning the listener, just part of Birchwood’s personality. Blues isn’t just old tyme and reissues. This new stuff is kicking some butt. Enjoy.