Seasick Steve’s latest ups the quality, loses its qualities

seasick steve

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Seasick Steve

Release Date: May 27, 11

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Blues is a tricky genre. It thrives on authenticity; as being the vehicle in which those with a genuine voice can deliver their story. It can be raw and stagger all the way through, but as long as it gets its point across with conviction, it’ll sound good. The detriment comes when high-tech recording techniques and big band additions creep their way into the original equation. Then it begins to feel contrived. And contrived blues is what Vanilla Ice is to hip-hop: you’d rather have a dick in your ear than headphones.

And because blues is an antiquated genre, when trying to recapture an old sound that was a product of the poverty and despair of the time it originated in one risks being hacky, unoriginal. But when it hits its stride, it can sound great. What helps Seasick is the fact that coming up he kept company like Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin and slept in boxcars, and boasts a dialect that sounds like it’s been dipped in Savanna waters and slowed by whiskey.

Seasick made it work best in his debut album Dog House Music in 2006. Since then the perfectly imperfect scratch and fuzz has been replaced with an empty clarity.

Dog House Music was raw, gritty. Among other things, it showcased a three-string guitar with its components held on with duct tape and Seasick’s heavy soled shoe pounding the beat into the floor; so unadulterated, Mississippi Delta mud might as well have been bubbling out of the amplifier.

But since then it seems money found its way into the production. And it proceeded to mop up the mess, and put a blinding and unnatural sheen on the beautifully dilapidated hunk of glorious shit otherwise known as Seasick’s sound.

In the past, the music worked because it rode on the shoulders of a charismatic and believable voice in Seasick. But now, by not allowing his endearing shortcomings to shine through, Seasick’s new album, You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks becomes just worn out, forced blues.

Frankly, you just can’t sound broken and run down through high-priced studio equipment. And although, Seasick’s voice sounds better than it ever has, the full, rich sound that surrounds it keeps most things worth listening to from surfacing. When a scraggily riff pushes its way into a track, overly splashy and enthusiastic drums beat the potential the riff carried into submission.

“Treasures” and “Underneath a Blue and Cloudless Sky” are the dark, haunted tracks that this album should have been filled with. They deliver that cold, dreary emotion that has legitimized Seasick throughout his career. Instead the album tries to build around songs like “Party” that swoop in and wipe your memory clean of any of the album’s redeeming qualities.

Seasick’s almost 70 now, has been married for nearly 30 years, and has 5 kids. He’s not the tramp he used to be, the one he sings about. Maybe after being removed from the hobo lifestyle for this long, he’s run out of experiences to draw upon.

Here’s to hoping that’s not true [writer sips his whiskey].