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Little Axe
 The Wolf That House Built, OKeh/Epic CD EK 64254

 "The world's first ambient dub blues project!"

In spite of samples of blues masters Howlin' Wolf, Leadbelly, and Son House on two tracks, and in spite of the "ambient dub blues" claim quoted above (which appears on the CD cover), this ain't the blues. Near as I can tell, there isn't a single song which follows the twelve-bar blues pattern that has served as a mainspring of jazz, rhythm'n'blues, rock'n'roll, and country. Moreover, it doesn't feel remotely like the blues.

There's plenty of throb'n'bob, mattress-spring bass, spacy effects, and, of course, a good beat. The samples of real blues musicians are well-integrated into the mix, although too few and far between. (And the fake sampled blues vocals by Gary Williams on "Crossroads" are embarrassing.) The first cut, "Ride On," with the Wolf and Leadbelly drifting in and out, shows real promise, but the majority of the album goes in a different, less successful direction. It's closer to soul. "The Time Has Come" is indistinguishable from a hundred '70s era slow soul tunes, with rich male voices in harmony (Skip McDonald overdubbed, I assume), and lyrics like "Angel come a calling, to keep the man from falling, A whole life trying to find, the answer to my prayer." Not bad, but not the blues.

All of it is pleasant enough, for background music or slow throbby dancing. The playing and singing is smooth, the real drums are a nice touch, and the production is nothing if not polished. So, maybe I expected too much. But a real ambient dub blues is not hard to imagine. A blues song often sounds as though it has no real beginning nor end, so we are simply dropping in somewhere during its infinite lifetime. Adrian Sherwood's prolific crew (African Head Charge, Dub Syndicate, Tackhead, etc.) might have been just the folks to create a pretty cool album that played off that feeling. But that's not this formulaic album. --  Glenn Brooks

production notes
Skip McDonald, guitar, vocals, keyboards, bass, programming; Doug Wimbish, bass guitar; Keith LeBlanc, acoustic drums; Talvin Singh, tablas; various percussion; Paul Beckett, programming.
Produced by Adrian Sherwood and Skip McDonald; engineered by Paul Beckett and Alan Branch. 1994 release. (63:48)

song titles
Ride On
The Time Has Come
Never Turn Back, Parts 1 & 2
Another Sinful Day
Out in the Rain and Cold
Wolf Story
Hear My Cry
Falling Down
Wake the Town

Copyright © 1995 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.