I do like a title that explains what you should expect, we’ve got genre and a hint that this may be a tribute to a certain gender and time. Simple. But don’t be fooled because Holy Madam Mississippi there are some absolute treasures to be found here!
It would be easy to sit down with a guitar and simply copy what has been recorded a dozen times, that would be a simple way out, copy, replicate and move on but what Italian singer/multi-instrumentalist Elli De Mon has done is brought her own vision to things and the result is blues on caffeine. The type of thing the music snobs will snaffle down with sugar and cream (or, if experience is anything to go by, a spoon of cinnamon and some crème fresh).
The musical landscape is in two halves, there are the guitar-lead blues of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker (I know, I know, neither are women, but the deep-south blues style is true) but the first half of the album plays out like a mix of White Stripes meets PJ Harvey by way of the late seventies New Wave bands like The Go-Gos.
And it’s brilliant!
All of these songs were written by the mostly unknown ‘Queens’ like Ma Rainey, Lucille Bogan, Bessie Smith, Elizabeth Cotten and the quite beautifully named Memphis Minnie, so these are by no means new songs, but given the De Mon treatment you’ve got something that is exciting, engaging and bang up to date.
‘Prove It On Me Blues’, ‘Downhearted Blues’ and ‘Shave ‘Em Dry’ are rugged, energised, punky efforts that are easily enjoyed but my standout track is the ‘Paint it Black’-style ‘Dope Head Blues’ (originally by Victoria Spivey). It’s driven by a twangling, mysterious sitar and immediately makes you think of acid-induced Vietnam movies.
This is the final song before the album shifts into more traditional territory of guitar and vocals but the love that De Mon has for the work shines through, it plays out like a history lesson, a gentle nudge of “if you like this, you should listen to the original”, a reminder that there is a body of work out there that has been buried beneath the autotune, shiny production and glossy promotion of music that has a fraction of the artistry that these ladies had a century ago.
If you like blues but you fancy hearing it played with a gallon of caffeine by someone who has the skill to reinvent it for the modern ear, this is the woman to search out.