Sunday, May 21, 2023

Gráinne Duffy - Dirt Woman Blues

There are, in case you hadn’t noticed, a wheen of excellent woman blues’n’roots artists out there these days – sisters doin’ it for themselves, as it were.  And Ireland’s Gráinne Duffy is very much one of ‘em.  The woman sings like a bird, plays some mean guitar, and with her guitar buddy and husband Paul Sherry writes some damn good songs.  What’s not to like?
Dirt Woman Blues picks up where its predecessor Voodoo Blues left off, in a rootsy vein, but exploring some new angles. On a few tracks here Duffy, who can make her voice soar and swirl with panache, dials things down to a lower, more restrained pitch – and brings something fresh to her repertoire in doing so.  ‘Rise Above’, which comes halfway through this set, is a good example of the resulting mood.  A pattering rhythm and spangly guitar create the platform for a
Come out from behind that guitar Gráinne, and take a bow
Pic by Rob Blackham
reflective Duffy vocal that comes over like a female Paul Rodgers.  It’s a simple enough song, but with a deep, deep vibe about it.
There are hints of Free and Bad Company in the opening two tracks ‘Well Well Well’ and ‘Dirt Woman Blues’ too.  The first swings lazily, with some great slide embroidery that I’m guessing is courtesy of Paul Sherry, while Elijah Ford delivers some rubbery bass playing worthy of Andy Fraser, and Duffy mostly just goes with the flow, rolling along with the groove.  Meanwhile the slow and measured title track kicks off with mellow chiming chords and sparse lead guitar notes, establishing a real old bluesy feel as it builds up a head of steam, and benefitting from some very Kossoff-like lead guitar laden with sustain.
Duffy has often crossed musical borders beyond pure blues though, and she does it again here with ‘Running Back To You’, which opens in country-ish fashion á la Patsy Cline, but quickly folds in soulfulness worthy of Etta James.  Duffy is a singer capable of slaying an audience with her take on James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, and the attributes that make that possible are evident here – bags of feeling, and phrasing that develops plenty of tension and release, while some mucho simpatico guitar work weaves around her voice.  There’s similar soulfulness on ‘Hold On To You’, Duffy’s aching vocal spilling out beyond the essentially simple song structure.  The backing is slow and steady, with a layer of organ embroidered by some low-end guitar remarks and chiming piano.  Is it blues?  Soul?  Americana?  All of ‘em, maybe?
Duffy and co can rock too, mind you.  ‘Sweet Liberation’ may start off calm and contemplative, but three minutes in they suddenly crunch into a higher gear of crisp drumming and gutsy guitar, and La Duffy cracks out a more impassioned vocal over tangled, rocking guitar and rattling piano.  ‘Yes I Am’ similarly eases in on a pulsing beat and long, gritty chords, but then explodes into driving guitar, booming bass and rattling drums, prefacing an urgent Duffy vocal and some wailing lead guitar that’s more about feistiness than finesse, and culminating in a scrabbling, feedback-challenged, eyeballs-out rock’n’rollin’ solo.  I reckon they had fun cutting that one.
The closing ‘Killycrum’ has a laid-back feel with a hint of the Allmans about it, and a languid vocal from Duffy.  Then a rhythmic bridge triggers some jangling guitar and Gráinne getting more assertive as she sings “I want to show you, the way you showed me” in a fashion that’s assured more than delicate, prompting the thought that once upon a time, before Sharleen Spiteri became a 'star', Texas were this good.  
Dirt Woman Blues is a classy album from a classy artist, reinforcing Gráinne Duffy’s standing among the modern-day sorority of leading blues’n’roots women.  If you're not familiar with her, you need to fix that quick.
Dirt Woman Blues is out now, and can be ordered here.

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