Driftwood may sound like one of Groucho Marx's many characters, but this new CD
is nothing to laugh at. A singer / songwriter / multi-instrumentalist, Driftwood
has strung together a dozen numbers for his Southward Bound debut CD, and covers
a wide variety of musical styles into the bargain. He conjures up Tom Waits, Taj
Mahal, Keb' Mo', Bill Frisell and late period Dylan, while suffusing
Cuban/Brazilian rhythms, fine gospel singing and superb musicianship into the
mix. The title track "Southward Bound" is a strong powerful number that lets you
know at once you are in safe hands. His tuneful, bluesy voice is set against
unusual chord progressions and top notch percussion form Sebastian Notini on
atabaque, brushes and snare drum. Backing vocals from Paris Renita, Sylver Logan
Sharp and Daryl Hunt add to the fun and match the standards of the best Leonard
Cohen productions. There's a fine mixture of relaxed but focussed drive to
propel the nostalgic lyrics along – no use
complainin' 'bout flooded roads and trains that don't run, Got to slow down my
mind and wait for the sun.
To these ears the most successful tracks are the
up-tempo numbers. "Sweet Elizabeth" has more than a hint of zydeco to it. I love
the way he stops the music periodically to pause for effect, then jumps back in
to complete the thought. The guitar picking is first rate. On this track alone,
B.B. sings and plays Dobro, banjo, mandola, brushes, brooms, shakers and
carnival drum. He is ably assisted by Staffan Astner on acoustic guitar, John
Lindström on lap steel, Max Schultz on octave guitar and Sven Lindvall on
upright bass. He uses ten different musicians in various combinations on the CD,
and the standards are high all round.
My top pick is track 5, "A Way To Celebrate". This
is a way to celebrate the sweet contentment that comes from sitting down
listening to people you believe are true. These are not your everyday
lyrics, but words of wide experience and contemplation, set to music that will
sing in your ears for days. If you've watched the first season of The Wire you may be minded of Wait's "Way Down in the Hole"
as performed by The Blind Boys of Alabama.
Yes, it's that good. I'm also struck by "Strange How Things Can Turn Around"
where Driftwood is assisted by none other than Eric Bibb on 12-stringed guitar.
The acoustic is really warm here in this great blend of gospel, guitars and
tight rhythms. Driftwood does his best Otis Redding impression on "Love Must
Prevail" then rounds out the album with a mix of country and Hawaiian music, the
last track "Aliki Moonlight" being the only instrumental on the disc.
Who is B.B. Driftwood? Would you believe Bengt Skogholt! His biography includes a godfather in Cuba, filming in Africa, recording with Olle Romo and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, and experience playing with local musicians in the Caribbean and South America. B.B., or should I say Bengt, wrote all the music on this album, produced the CD and mixed it with Jan-Eric Persson. Saving the best till last, did I tell you this is a superb SACD recording from Sweden's audiophile label, Opus 3? A quick test shows the DSD layer to be significantly more rewarding than the Redbook, the image more spacious, the definition higher and the experience more relaxing. So not only is the rather short disc chock full of sweet music, but with the right equipment you get to hear it just as it was laid down.