Paul Cowley: Just What I Know
The Mississippi Delta via Birmingham, England and Morbihan in Brittany. They’re all in the mix in Paul Cowley’s wonderful album of classic-sounding acoustic blues, Just What I Know.
Paul Cowley is an English singer, songwriter, acoustic fingerstyle and slide guitarist who lives in Brittany, France. He only started playing guitar seriously around the age of 40, when he heard Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album, but has developed top-notch chops which he brings to bear on his Gibson J-45, National Triolian and 1980 Dobro guitars. Drawing his inspiration from the country blues, and citing Eric Bibb as a modern-day hero, he has released his fifth album, entitled Just What I Know.
He gives us seven classic blues songs by Memphis Minnie, Rev Robert Wilkins, Willie McTell, Furry Lewis, Willie Newbern and the Memphis Jug Band, and five originals. The covers of these old blues songs are well chosen for variety and entertainment and Cowley more than does them justice, while putting his own stamp on them. The recording quality is excellent, with the vocals and guitars sounding like they’re in your living room. Cowley recorded the album in his converted barn in rural France and it’s worked extremely well for the voice and guitar arrangements of the songs.
Cowley kicks off with Memphis Minnie’s New Bumble Bee, giving a taste of what we’re in for in the album – deft and delightful acoustic guitar work, including lovely, tasteful slide playing, along with Cowley’s nicely phrased vocals, which suit the music and vibe perfectly. Three songs in we get the first Cowley original, Penny for Mine Penny for Yours, a perfect blues for late night listening. His Red Fence changes the mood, a gentle, rhythmic and melodic delight that will have you smiling and tapping your toes. The other four Cowley compositions are equally enjoyable, nicely varied and featuring his expert touch on guitar. I particularly enjoyed Dollar and a Lie – “if I had a dollar every time I heard a lie, I’d be a wealthy fellow by and by” – ain’t that the truth, these days! Cowley’s breathy, laid-back singing here nicely complements his emotive slide guitar. Also worthy of note is the slide playing on Willie McTell’s I Got to Cross that River of Jordan – quite exquisite. Hambone Willie Newbern’s 1929 Roll and Tumble completes a hugely satisfying selection of acoustic blues.
If you like your blues acoustic and played with skill, feeling and obvious respect and love for the country blues, then, go get yourself a copy of Paul Cowley’s album. It is terrific.