Artist: Mike Eldred Trio
Album: Baptist Town
Label: Great Western Recording Co.
Release Date: 05/06/2016
This fourth album by The Mike Eldred Trio establishes a real livewire force to be reckoned with. Eldred, a former head at Fender Guitar’s custom division, can surely play just a little himself, his character at once highly tuneful and devastating. The others in the Trio—Blasters bassist John Bazz and former Blasters drummer Jerry Angel—are certainly no slouches either. Several guests helped them flesh out and make Baptist Town as riveting as it is, among them John Mayer, Robert Cray, and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo.
It all boils down to the songs, each impressive not only by the scintillating performance, but by Eldred’s obvious understanding of things. You can hear the black and the white in Eldred’s thoughts, clearly, and also blurred. “Hunder Dollar Bill” gets it rolling fast and stridently, Eldred’s voice muffled as if from an old-time record machine, which makes sense in the context of where the album was cut, and what inspired it. Two hours north of the stuck-in-time impoverished Baptist Town in Mississippi, lies Memphis and Sun Studios. Eldred was so taken on his first visit to Baptist Town on a Southern “blues tour” with his daughter that he wrote these great songs. What better place then, than the historic home of the blues as it beget rock ‘n’ roll to record them?
Standing on the exact same tile floor Howlin’ Wolf dripped sweat on gives the album definite texture. Front porch backwoods country blues pickin’ drives “Run Devil Run,” and fuzzed-out guitar does the same to the “Sugar Shake.” Both are as steeped in the lore as “Black Annie,” a fierce blues about the black strap used to beat slaves that starts out acoustic but explodes. But best may be “Bess,” artfully and simply soulful. Can’t ask for more than that. Eldred delivers in every way on, and for, Baptist Town.
– Tom Clarke