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East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

CD image Scissormen – Luck In A HurryScissormen – Luck In A Hurry
VizzTone Label Group, 2008

Scissormen is the name of the avante-garde/experimental/blues “group” headed by Ted Drozdowski. Ted is an interesting cat, that’s for sure. Check out this information (courtesy of the Gibson guitar company website): when Ted Drozdowski isn’t slinging ink he’s slamming slide guitar with his alt-juke joint band Scissormen. He’s been an editor at Musician (magazine) and the Boston Phoenix, written for many magazines including Rolling Stone and Travel & Leisure, penned liner notes (including the 5,500 word essay for the recent award-winning John Lee Hooker box set), consulted for PBS’ Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues, and co-authored Billboard’s Jazz & Blues Encyclopedia. His awards include a Keeping the Blues Alive statue from the Blues Foundation.

The Scissormen project definitely comes by the “alt” label honestly. The music is not for the faint of heart. It tends to be very ominous, consisting of soundscapes built from cascades of slide guitar. The juke-joint influences are there, with the spirits of Junior Kimbrough and RL Burnside always present, as well as Otis Taylor’s trance-blues. It’s not off the mark to compare Drozdowski’s work here to some of the work of James “Blood” Ulmer or Marc Ribot.

The Songs:

1. Tupelo: -- Interesting…this one starts off with a cymbal wash followed by a xylophone introduction. Drums and slide guitar are brought up into the mix, creating a soundscape of sorts. Otis Taylor meets Junior Kimbrough meets James “Blood” Ulmer, all riding on Timothy Leary’s magic bus? That’s probably as close to the mark as I can get you. Very challenging music, especially for someone like me who thrives on melodies and Chicago/West Coast ensemble blues playing. The lyrics are almost unintelligible on this cut, so I’m not sure what they’re really about.

2. Move Baby Move: -- You gotta move?? This song is the Scissormen’s (really Ted Drozdowski’s) tribute to, or take on, Mississippi Hill Country music, in particular the styles of R.L. Burnside and Mississippi Fred McDowell. It’s a very loose rewrite/adaptation of “You Got To Move/You Gotta Move”, which was a song McDowell was famous for and which Burnside had adopted (and adapted) as his own.

3. Mattie Sweet Mattie: -- This slows down the punk/Hill-Country-stomp of the previous track to a dirge-like pace. It’s a slow Delta-influenced track, and is a loose rewrite of Old Black Mattie, and the many variations of that tune. The song has some atmospheric violin work that adds to its melancholy feel.

4. Death Letter: -- This is a cover of Son House’s Death Letter Blues. It is faithful to the song in spirit, if not in sound. The sound is very ominous, with hard waves of slide guitar and sparse drums.

5. Junior’s Blues: -- This song is a tribute to the blues music and life of Junior Kimbrough. It there was ever a rough and tough Mississippi Hill Country man, Junior was that man. This tune includes a mournful-sounding violin weaving in and out of the soundscape.

6. Preachin’ The Blues: -- The liner notes tell us that Drozdowski wrote this song, but that really isn’t the case. This is definitely of a re-write/adaptation of Preachin’ Blues, another of Son House’s more famous songs (although there’s no guarantee that Son didn’t acquire the song from someone else himself.) Others listeners may recognize the tune from Robert Johnson, or from the hundreds of other recorded versions. Piano is added to the typical slide/drum sound on this track, which really is a nice touch.

7. Whiskey And Mary Jane: -- Wow…talk about a knock-out punch! This is one unabashed tribute to whiskey and marijuana. If you can picture the metal-punk band Motorhead playing blues, then you will have a darn good idea of what this tune sounds like. It really doesn’t sound quite like anything heard so far on this album, as it basically rocks-out for 4 ½ minutes - as opposed to exploring alt/punk/blues via the Otis Taylor minimalist soundscape method heard on the majority of the tracks on this album. The “singer” (bellower??) on this song is Dicky Barrett, lead singer for the Boston-based ska-punk-metal band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. But you know what? I kind of like this tune; it’s got a killer groove working in it.

8. The Devil Is Laughing: -- We’re back to the slower, soundscape-driven music with this cut. This one rides heavy slide all the way along. It’s just slide, drums and vocals. And with a title like “The Devil is Laughing”, you can pretty well guess as to the heaviness of the lyrical subject matter.

9. John The Revelator: -- This is the 2nd Son House-credited song performed on this CD. Everything on the CD is pretty dark in nature, so it’s not surprising that Ted Drozdowski is attracted to the music of Son House. House’s work was always incredibly intense, and also tended toward darker themes, especially the eternal struggle of light/dark, good/evil. The song has been completely rearranged, and is almost unrecognizable from Son’s original. This one is pure avant-garde experimentation. It’s not my cup of tea, but those of you who really enjoy “challenging” music may enjoy it.

10. When The Devil Calls: -- Interesting…Drozdowski goes the solo route on this tune (at least for the 1st minute or so), AND he’s playing acoustically (which is extremely refreshing at this point of the CD.) At around 1 ½ minutes he starts sprinkling in small bursts (sounds, or notes, really) of electric guitar, which don’t detract from the overall mood of the tune. It was nice to hear Ted play in this manner.

11. Do Wrong Man: -- The set closer, it’s a punk-blues rave-up. Take some Hill Country badass and mix it with some Boston punk attitude and you’ll come up with this tune. It’s more straight-forward than some of the more soundscape-driven tunes here, much more direct, without all the echo-laden guitar effects.

The Verdict:

This CD is definitely not for the faint of heart or for those of you who prefer pretty, up-lifting subject matter. It’s avant-garde/punk/blues, very ominous, very dark, and very challenging. It’s certainly unlike any other releases by the VizzTone label group, for whatever that’s worth. If you enjoy music from artists such as James “Blood” Ulmer or Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (not to say that they mine the same vein of music) you’ll likely enjoy “Luck In A Hurry”. I’m going to give this a 2.5 on the old STLBluesometer. Those who really dig this type of material will not agree with me, but for the majority of listeners this CD may prove too ominous and too harsh sounding.

. Lee Howland, aka "East Side Slim"
The STLBluesometer

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