Paul Cowley — “Stroll Out West” — LBM007 (Feb. 27 release)
The music of the blues is classically American, but its influence has been felt worldwide for many decades.
In fact, it was British bands who found their inspiration in this music in the 1950s and ’60s who helped to reinvigorate our passion for those sounds on this side of the pond.
So it’s no surprise then that there are still Brits who have been influenced by the blues and who are keenly interested in supporting and performing various styles of the music.
Paul Cowley is one of those performers.
He’s an Englishman now living in the Brittany region of France, where the pristine sound from his studio in an old granite block barn reflects the country-style blues he’s absorbed over the years.
Cowley has an uncanny talent for writing and performing one of the most basic and beautiful of all blues styles — acoustic country blues. Add to that a sense of traditional folk music, throw in some Americana, maybe a touch of Britannia, and you have his uniquely accessible approach.
“Stroll Out West” is Cowley’s seventh album, closely following the style of his last, “Long Time Comin’,” in June of 2021 (my review here). He’s primarily a solo acoustic performer, but here he’s very well accompanied on several tracks by Pascal Ferrari on bass, percussion and electric guitar.
Cowley’s finely articulated guitar work underlines his laid-back vocal style, never overpowering but always complementing the impact of each song. When he creates his little gem of a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears,” Cowley’s interpretation makes you wonder how this Motown standard could have ever sounded any better.
His own material is just as impressive. It’s a combination of folk and blues storytelling, music created in the spirit of his sources, but filtered through his own creative sensibilities. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable ramble through the gently swinging lyricism of “My Kinda Girl,” to the richly conceived “On My Way,” to the playful lightness of “Nosey.” In “World Gone Crazy,” Cowley shares darker blue observations best described by the title itself.
A pair of covers follows: A spare, haunting reading of Skip James’ “Special Rider Blues,” and the already-mentioned uniquely flavored “Tracks of My Tears.”
“Songs Of Love” is another original blues that rolls gently along, floating on eloquent guitar work, and “Life Is Short” offers Cowley’s thoughtful musings on the transitory nature of our being. Next is Cowley’s version of the classic, traditional and tragic true-story-based blues, “Stagger Lee,” using the Mississippi John Hurt version of this tale, which dates back to the dawn of recorded music (first published in 1911 and first recorded in 1923 by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, when it was titled “Stack O’ Lee Blues”).
“Whatever It Takes” is another Cowley song, with a percussive-driven philosophy of life, again accurately reflected in the title.
Two more fine old blues round out the set: “Catfish Blues” by the mysterious Robert Petway, enhanced by sensuous slide, hypnotic guitar and gruff vocals that pour new life into another classic, and the slide-driven “Preachin’ Blues,” one of Robert Johnson’s marvelous creations, done with considerable passion and justice here.
Paul Cowley’s richly imagined and thoughtfully executed music is a pleasure on multiple levels. He has successfully integrated classic blues styles into his own personal vision, and the results are the excellent musical creations of “Stroll Out West.” This is righteous late-night listening; pair it with “Long Time Comin'” and a fine Cognac for maximum effect!
You can find Paul Cowley’s comments on these songs in the tracklist below the video.
Here’s a live performance of “Stagger Lee,” which appears on the album:
Tracklist and Cowley comments:
My Kinda Girl (Cowley)
A song I wrote some years ago that has been in and out of my repertoire in various incarnations.
On My Way (Cowley)
New strings, different tunings often lead to fresh ideas. Not so much a tuning but being in dropped D led to this idea. One of the more recent songs.
Mischevious not malicious song about a neighbour. He’s too busy to notice or contemplate the song might be about him!
World Gone Crazy (Cowley)
Observations of mankinds continued sleep walk into its own demise!
Special Rider Blues (Skip James)
My interpretation of a song I’ve been hot on for a while
Tracks Of My Tears (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles)
Streches the credibility of a bluesman. I’ve been moved by this song for decades!
Songs Of Love (Cowley)
An idea that arrived in a field en route to Belgium. Inspired by my friend Jim Crawford, a guitarist, singer/songwriter with a sublime touch, style & voice.
Life Is Short (Cowley)
My father died 8/5/21 & with his passing came the full realization of just how fleeting and precious life is.
Stagger Lee (John Hurt)
Mississippi John Hurt’s interpretation of a true story murder ballad.
Whatever It Takes (Cowley)
Choices. Pay your money, take your chance.
Catfish Blues (Robert Petway)
The album title “Stroll Out West” came from a line in the song.
Preachin Blues ( Robert Johnson)
Almost didn’t make the album but what the hell!
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