Hans Theessink & Big Daddy Wilson, Payday

Hans Theessink & Big Daddy Wilson, Payday, Blue Groove

It feels like payday for all of us who get the opportunity to hear this fine album from two blues artists at the top of their game. Hans Theessink and Big Daddy Wilson, join voices and blues spirit for sixteen songs of exceptional acoustic blues.

We get half a dozen originals from each man and four covers of songs by Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James and Washington Philips. The originals all sound like authentic traditional blues songs, but I guess we might expect that from two guys who have spent a lifetime playing the blues.

It’s joyous stuff, the songs driven by Hans’s sure and characteristic rhythmic finger-picking and the lovely harmonies and melding of baritone and tenor voices. Hans Theessink is one of those guitarists, where, though it’s hard to put your finger on just why, you can easily spot a few bars into a song before the singing starts. Of course, once the singing does start you know exactly who the artist is – that rich, warm, laid-back baritone can be no one else.

I confess not to having heard Big Daddy Wilson before. He’s an American who ended up settling in Germany after his military service and a veteran of thirteen albums, of which eight are solo [note to self – check them out!]. He’s a terrific singer – soulful, bluesy, great range – and the collaboration with Theessink is pure gold.

The album kicks off with Blind Willie Johnson’s Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right, Theessink and Wilson trading verses before a nice instrumental verse with some cool slide guitar. It’s remarkable how relevant the lyrics are, nine decades after Willie Johnson recorded the song in 1930. There are 26m refugees in the world, and over 400,000 people seek asylum in Europe every year, fleeing war and persecution. Johnson’s words are timeless:

All of us down here are strangers, none of us have a home
Don’t ever hurt your brother and cause him to feel alone

Everybody ought to treat a stranger right, long ways from home
Everybody ought to treat a stranger right, a long ways from home

Skip James’s minor key Hard Time Killing Floor Blues is another one which resonates richly with our current situation. Wilson and Theessink’s intense vocals and moaning more than do justice to the song, aided and abetted by some mournful slide guitar. Our hard times may not be those of Depression era James’s, but the pandemic of the last two years leaves us feeling with Skip James that “These hard times can last us so very long.”

The duo address the pandemic directly, though, in Theessink’s Virus Blues.

Such a trial and tribulation
Trouble far as I can see
Deadly pandemic shaking this old world
May be coming after you and me.

The song documents the devastating, indiscriminate and worldwide nature of the virus and makes for a fine record in musical form of what happened for posterity.

There are light-hearted and tender moments as well though – Wilson’s delightful Ballerina, celebrating a child’s dancing and Theessink’s lovely, laid-back Vintage Red Wine.

Washington Philips’s Denomination Blues is a favourite of mine, one of sixteen songs recorded by the Texan between 1927 and 1929. Philips gently mocks various Christian denominations for their varied beliefs or practices and takes aim at insincere preachers. Again, nothing much has changed in nearly a hundred years, though the splintering of Christian churches is probably much worse than in Philips’s day. It’s a fun song, the subject matter treated in a musically light-hearted way. Wilson and Theessink capture this superbly, and the picked banjo matches the song perfectly.

The title track is a Mississippi John Hurt song, first released when Hurt was “rediscovered” in 1966. Rather than just replicate the John Hurt picking style, Theessink provides a nice strummed accompaniment on a twelve-string guitar and adds a bit of slide for added flavour.

It’s always nice to hear a train song and the penultimate song on the album, Hans Theessink’s Train serves well. Driven on by his resonator guitar, this poor boy is coming home and his baby’s waiting!

The closing song, Roll with the Punches, is a cool reminder to worried minds that “at the end of a long black tunnel, gotta be a light.”

And that’s the positive vibe that permeates the rest of the album as well, actually, as Theessink and Wilson face the troubles of the world head on and come out with a sagely and positive take on things. Every song is enjoyable, some are just a delight. It’s acoustic blues by two blues masters, a combination of voices that interweave and fuse perfectly, with Theessink’s rich accompaniment on a variety of guitars, banjo and mandolin.

Payday hits pay dirt; it’s a blues album you definitely want to hear. And check out the oh-so-cool album cover – two cool dudes, an open top car and a guitar – a classic! It’s an album I want in my collection and one I think I’ll be playing and enjoying for some time to come.