Album Reviews

Half Deaf Clatch

The Life & Death Of A.J Rail

Artist:     Half Deaf Clatch

Album:     The Life & Death Of A.J Rail

Label:     Self-released

Release Date:     10/12/2015


The first thing to say about this release is that it’s a truly remarkable overall package, bursting with spare, slippery acoustic fretwork on both guitar and banjo. The dozen tracks are all self-written with an evident understanding of the old-time blues tradition and a touch of modernity that never swamps the originality.

Back in the day, of course, banjo was often the only instrument of choice available to sharecropping, blistered and bruised old bluesmen in the Deep South. Nowadays it tends to be overplayed, full of sparkling notes without a heartbeat or, on occasion, any real subtlety, feeling or passion. To his credit, Englishman Half Deaf Clatch avoids this perilous pitfall with a notably spare, deceptively basic picking style reminiscent of the old claw-hammer pioneers from the turn of the 20th century. The result is an album that has an unusually effective added ingredient mostly lacking in blues releases these days.

The songs themselves chart the story of a life lived with more than a touch of sin and scandal, debauchery and defiance of the only certainty in life: old man Death himself. If anything, this really is the devil’s music, writ large. The Grim Reaper seems to be more than welcome here.

In addition, Clatch is always sure-footed with his fretwork and slide mastery. Pace and tempo both vary alongside lyrics that grab the attention to produce a near-effortless triumph. In many ways, The Life & Death Of A.J Rail could very well prove to be the most original blues release of 2015.

—Iain Patience

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