I’m going to start this review with a bit about me. When I started to play guitar I learned by playing along with records, trying to work out what the guitar player was doing and what it was about the music that moved me. Why is that relevant? Because this disc, for the first time in ages has had me itching to grab an axe and do what I did at the beginning.
Poplar Jake’s new release, From the Delta to the Docks is an ostensibly simple release, for the most part just Jake himself on guitar and vocals, sometimes accompanied by spare percussion, and just once with a full band. There’s not a lot going on, it’s not layered, there’s no multi-track trickery and no special effect frippery. In fact other than an a fairly long reverb, this could easily be reproduced with just Jake, a chair and a guitar in your front room, it’s astoundingly intimate and because of this immensely involving.
Of course there are parallels you can draw with the work of other artists, hints of Robert Johnson on 32-400, John Lee Hooker on Pretty Peggy, and so on. These moments of familiarity are special because they provide an anchor from which the listener and Jake can launch towards the more esoteric and original numbers like Burned. The thing is that while they are familiar, drawing from the acts of the past they’re also intensely personal and timeless, things are moving in a very real way. The songs are crafted in the very finest fashion, there is obvious care taken, and while they draw from the traditional in their making the use of imagery that doesn’t resonate with the present is avoided, making this a timeless piece indeed.
While, as I’ve already stated, this is a very simple recording, it’s also obvious that it’s a well-considered piece of work. Songs exist individually; they each have their own sound, despite the lack of frippery, and their own story. It’s well recorded too, with richness to the sound that is very present. The sweetly played guitars blend perfectly with Jake’s hoarse bark of a voice, and the simplest of the performances has as much, if not more, impact than when a full band is present on set closer Marianne. The whole thing oozes spookiness and a sense of fun that is like nothing else I’ve heard since John Lee passed.
So what we have here is a traditional blues album on one hand, and on the other something a little different. It combines reverence with real creativity and delivers a real and clear shot of inspiration. The title is apt; the sound of the delta is here, as is the best traditions of British songwriting. I think it’s safe to say that this is a real achievement.