Monday, May 24, 2021

Mike Ross - The Clovis Limit: Tennessee Transition

Mike Ross may be a multi-instrumentalist, but on The Clovis Limit: Tennessee Transition he demonstrates what you can achieve with just a good voice and an acoustic guitar.  This batch of ten tracks (plus three bonus tracks on the CD) brings together eight songs from his The Clovis Limit Part 1 and Part 2 albums, plus an old Ross tune and a few classic blues covers.  Ross delivers them in stripped back fashion, with total conviction, and the results are pleasing to say the least.
That sense of conviction is captured perfectly in tracks like the opening ‘Driftwood’, and later the 
Mike Ross - have guitar, will play the blues
likes of ‘None Of Your Business’ and ‘The Only Place You Ever Take Me Is Down’.  ‘Driftwood’ floats along on a current of slide-accented rolling guitar, but it’s the lyric and Ross’s delivery of it that really grab the attention.  We’re “made from piss and vinegar, and tiny bits of star,” he sings, in a strong and punchy vocal that displays great character and phrasing.  The riff and vocals of ‘None Of Your Business’ are stridently assertive on a song that sounds like you must have heard it years ago.  And ‘The Only Place You Ever Take Me Is Down’ whacks out a grabber of a melody over slippin’ an’ slidin’ guitar, coming over like a roughed-up, first person sequel to the Eagles ‘Life In The Fast Lane’.
But Ross knows how to tone it down too, as evidenced by the delicate guitar, and the light and shade in the vocal, on the patient ‘Grow In Your Garden’, and the country blues stylings of ‘Young Man’.  The latter opens with twangy blues guitar, and continues in ruminative fashion until the energy levels (and slide injections) become more intense towards the end.
‘Leviathan’, meanwhile, is a moody and mysterious blues that sounds like it was dragged out of the backwoods at midnight, with – like so much of this material – whipsmart lyrics.  Ross’s take on Bukka White’s ‘Shake ‘Em On Down’ is taken at a leisurely pace, as if in the aftermath of a few healthy glugs of moonshine.  It’s straightforward and excellent, capturing the spirit of the song, and  bizarre as it may sound, it somehow carries echoes of early Zeppelin.
He manages to pack a lot in to the brief but jolly guitar rag of ‘Blow Away’, and also makes a lot out of a little on Charlie Patton’s ‘Screamin’ And Hollerin’ Blues’, with an insistent, pushing-and-pulling guitar figure, and a plaintive vocal.
The bonus tracks include a version of ‘Statesborough Blues’, with the familiar melody overlaying satisfyingly textured guitar, all rich strumming, darts of slide, and classic blues turnarounds.
Considering that Ross was born in Durham and lives in Brighton, the American bent he gives to his vocals isn’t half convincing.  More importantly, the way his voice invests the back-to-basics delivery of the material with personality is downright impressive – and underlines some of the thoughts I shared recently on the subject of “the singer and the song”.  Tennessee Transition is a crackling collection of acoustic Americana and blues that hits its intended target smack bang in the bullseye.

The Clovis Limit: Tennessee Transition is released on 28 May, and can be ordered here.

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