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Exciting new shoots from the old roots

Musical fads come and go but, as the Black Keys and Jack While have illustrated, there continues to be a deep-rooted need for the genre that kick-started the whole shebang.

As Muddy Waters and Brownie McGhee put it, "The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll."

Unsurprisingly, given the musical horrors often encountered in late night bars around the planet, the blues often gets a bad rap.

But there's hope. Benjamin Booker is the latest explosive talent to own up to taking inspiration from the bluesmen of another era.

Don't expect him to sound like the '60s' power trio Cream who, pre-Led Zeppelin, explored the work of Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon in lengthy acid jams that invented the world of hard rock after the pop of the Beatles and protest of Dylan. In his early 20s, Booker moved to New Orleans from his home in Florida and nailed a sensationalist sound which marries the mayhem of punk with the yearning of Southern soul and the falling-down bad craziness of juke joint giants such as Fat Possum's T-Model Ford and Hound Dog Taylor, a Chicago performer who was legendary among his peers for having six fingers on his left hand.

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After scratching around local clubs as a solo singer, Booker (inset) hooked up with drummer Max Norton and things quickly moved to another level.

He readily admits the old blues and soul recordings he was hearing on local radio in Louisiana fed directly into what he was writing.

That and the way Blind Willie Johnson combined the harsh with the mellow when singing influenced his vocal style.

Besides sometimes sounding like a ravaged early Kings of Leon, on Old Hearts in particular, Booker's debut album carries echoes of a range of greats. From the opening Chuck Berry-style riff on Violent Shiver to the plaintiff Skip James' croak of By The Evening, he manages to effortlessly tap into a wellspring of source inspiration that goes deeper than cheap shot imitation.

He sings in the voice of an older man, through tonsils that sound as if they've been soaked in bourbon and smoked like Virginia ham.

At times you feel he mightn't get to finish a song. On Slow Coming he quivers like a young Mick Jagger performing a Solomon Burke country soul classic. "The future is slow coming, honey," he notes before lashing out a blizzard of fuzz guitar.

He's been touring America with Jack White. So when he appears at the Electric Picnic, Booker's likely to be on fire.

There's something distinctly modern about the way his songs frequently appear to be two or three different fragments stitched together like a fast-
edited TV news item.

Have You Seen My Son begins as a preacher's ramalama shout-out to his son, before careering off the road into a freeform freak-out and ending up as a slice of lumbering Black Crowes riff-ola. Who knows where it might take him. But Booker's debut is promising stuff.


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