Roadhouse album review: Debbie Bond explores “Blues Without Borders”

Debbie Bond – “Blues Without Borders” (Blues Root Productions, July 9)

I’m a little late coming to Alabama blueswoman Debbie Bond’s fine new release, “Blues Without Borders,” but that has just given its tasty blues and soulful musings more time to marinate in my mind.

The album title is intriguing — blues has always soared beyond borders. But this special production was put together during the 2020 pandemic months using 10 guest musicians in five studios in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, all connecting over the internet.

The result is this set of tough and tender tracks, all written or co-written by Bond, that blend thoughtful songwriting with a variety of musical styles that take in some blues, soul, country — and more.

The whole thing kicks off with a crisp “High Rider Blues,” featuring the trio of Wood’s guitar and fierce vocals, husband Rick Asherson on swampy harp and Micky Barker on chunky drums. It’s a bluesy keeper.

What follows immediately is the title track, co-written and co-sung by singer/activist Lea Gilmore in a heartfelt plea for peace, love and understanding. This, probably more than any other song, characterizes what Bond is trying to do on this album.

Bond puts that feeling into words in an excellent interview with Michael Limnios on his blog:

“So, the title track has this sentiment of unity,” she says. “It’s a taste of world blues music. Along with the song “Winds of Change,” which is more about the climate crisis and our sad greedy relationship with nature. Another way the title is appropriate is because our songwriting is so influenced by many threads in the American blues song book. I truly love soul music – from Memphis, to Muscle Shoals, to the current soul blues lifeblood streaming through the veins of contemporary blues. I love and listen to a wide range of music, and it has affected our music, of course, and my blues is a bit borderless.”

Other tracks I especially enjoyed include the smooth R&B flavor of “Let Me Be,” the torchy blues of “Blue Rain,” the playful story of her attraction to “Radiator” Rick Asherson with a pleasantly raunchy sax turn from Brad Guin, and the roadhouse rocking “Road Song” as a closer.

There’s a lot more excellent music in “Blues Without Borders.” Bond and her bandmates chosen for this unusual international effort create a seamless flow of lyrically and musically satisfying tracks.

It’s also worth noting those who contributed their far-flung talents: The aforementioned vocalist Gilmore, Jamaican saxman Ray Carless, a member of the Muscle Shoals Studios Horn section, Brad Guin, and percussionists Joelle Barker and Dave Crenshaw, plus background vocals from Meshon Omoregie, Gabrielle Semoine, and Carla Don and Rachel Edwards (Aka AfroUnicorn).

This is world music in the best sense of the word, all pulled together by Bond and her roughly 40-plus years of music-making in Alabama, where, among other ambitious work, she founded the Alabama Blues Project. The rest of her background is equally impressive.

A video of the song “Winds of Change”:

Here are the track list and credits from the CD cover:

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