Thursday, 16 February 2012
Review: The Hokum Steamers
The Hokum Steamers - Doing The Cater Street Shimmy (House-Rent Records)
Here at Leicester Bangs we review a lot of blues music. Whether it’s a new-kid-on-the-block Brit-blues guitar wonder, the latest bar-band from Chicago ripping up the local club scene, or something much folkier from the backwoods of Louisiana, we have a listen and write ‘em up. What we rarely hear is a contemporary artist or group recreating pre-war styles, the ragtime and hokum blues of the 1920s and ‘30s, and early gospel and jug band music.
The Hokum Steamers, Mike Ballantyne (vocal and guitar) and Rick Van Krugel (mandolins, vocal and guitar) do just that. Both Mike and Rick have decades of experience playing all sorts of blues and roots music, but coming together only recently to form The Hokum Steamers. “Doing The Cater Street Shimmy” is their debut recording. The first thing that jumps from the disc is how much of the material is celebratory, or just plain fun, and the combination of good-time songs and a spirited performance is almost irresistible.
The album begins with “Sadie Green (The Vamp of New Orleans)”, a song written by Jay C. Flippen in 1926. You probably won’t recognize his name, but you’ll know his face from a later film career that included roles in “The Wild One” and “Oklahoma”. They replace the trumpet of the original with upbeat strings, and it works rather well. “Hesitation Blues” has a history that goes back to the very beginning of the 20th Century (W.C. Handy copyrighted it in 1915, but it was known before then). The Hokum Steamers version owes much to Crying Sam Collins’ take from the late ‘20s, but they confirm in the notes that it’s a composite adaptation, with lyrics taken from various sources. That’s hardly a surprise as the song’s been recorded many times by blues artists as varied as Taj Mahal, Johnny Winter and the Reverend Gary Davis. When things take a turn to the darker side of blues on Blind Willie Johnson’s “In My Time of Dyin'”, they retain a certain upbeat enthusiasm which, much like the rest of the record, probably lacks true authenticity, but should suit 21st Century ears.