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Album Review

"I don't walk, I swagger," boasts U.K. soul and blues singer/guitarist Ian Siegal on the opening title track of Swagger, the follow-up to his successful Meat & Potatoes debut. And for the rest of the disc he does just that. It's a confident, eclectic set that veers from acoustic folk to early-'60s R&B and Tom Waits-styled excursions through poetic swamp blues, but somehow never loses focus. Credit Siegal, whose deep, raspy voice mirrors that of Howlin' Wolf (he even imitates Wolf in the first tune) and adds gutsy depth to songs split between originals and obscure covers. He grinds and growls through "Catch 22" and "God Don't Like Ugly" as if he's just discovered Waits' Heartattack and Vine period, but that represents just one facet of Siegal's influences. He's most accomplished at taking the blues at the core of his sound and, like the Waits of old, processing it into songs that are blues-based, but not in the traditional sense. Even John Lee Hooker fans will have difficulty identifying Siegal's cover of "Ground Hog Blues" in the more upbeat, almost lively reading it's given here. The acoustic guitar flies around lyrics that are set against an entirely different melody as his rhythm section pushes the beat and Siegal lets out an unexpected scream that is truly startling. Little Richard's "I Can't Believe You Wanna Leave" is dusted off for a coy cover helped enormously by Martin Lewis' '50s-styled honking sax. "Curses" and "Horse Dream (Swamp)" are the album's longest and most impressive tunes. The former features free-swinging, bizarre beat poetry ("his mind is like a soup dish, wide and shallow") played atop a raw second-line backbeat that's both unsettling and driving. Siegal's slide guitar slithers and moans and his overdubbed banjo adds further earthy weirdness to the set's most gripping track. Similarly, "Horse Dream" rides an ominous organ, bringing a Doors vibe to words that are shadowy and somewhat obtuse. Clearly, Siegal is pushing the blues envelope, but doing it in a natural, unpretentious way that opens up new possibilities to what is generally considered a relatively stagnant musical genre. Those willing to take the plunge will be rewarded with an impressive collection created by a guy talented and innovative enough to swagger as he walks through a fresh take on roots music.

Swagger, Ian Siegal
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