Review: Shufflin’ the Blues by Holly & Jon

The third album from Holly & Jon features classic, smouldering blues.

The third album from Holly & Jon features classic, smouldering blues.

This is classic blues, all down the line. Jon gets his guitar tone exactly right, no small achievement in a live setting, where even the most rehearsed songs can be subverted by bad acoustics or unexpected PA system fails. There’s a sweet fatness to his tone, not ripped up fuzz like Johnny Winter but just a little south of B.B. King’s clean, lean and pure guitar tones. Holly’s bass work is the engine of the duo’s rhythm section with drummer Marvin Walker. But where she really shines is in her interpretations of old standards. As if born to the blues, she nails it every time. Resonant, rich and deeply expressive, Holly’s vocals propel these songs to another level. Having been in the room the night this set was recorded at the old Silverton Gallery three years ago, I can safely say this recording captures the swing, the sweetness and the soul of that special evening.

Jon Burden at the Silverton Gallery, August 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon Burden at the Silverton Gallery, August 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon too on that night was in probably the best voice I’ve ever heard him. And I’ve been hearing these guys live for the best part of a decade, all over the Kootenays. Holly and Jon are dealing from the Classic Blues deck, reminding us why generations continue to be inspired by it. In addition to Muddy Waters’ Blow Wind Blow Jon uses a nimble slide to pull Robert Johnson’s Come On In My Kitchen out of the battered body of a guitar known as Gonzo. Holly’s originals Let’s Boogie, Lowdown Blues and Get Your Own Man swing and sway as naturally as if they were themselves old blues standards. When she gets into the scat vocals on Slushy Blues, the room warms up yet another notch. Here she’s as good as any blues torch singer ever was. Moving to a fast shuffle beat, this is no slow seduction. She’s astutely taken her cues from her heroines—Eva Cassidy and Bonnie Raitt—and has made of them something distinctly her own.

Holly Hyatt at the Silverton Gallery, August 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Soul Bliss ‘n Blues: Holly Hyatt at the Silverton Gallery, August 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon’s social conscience is often subtly reflected in his song choices on their three albums. Memphis Slim’s Mother Earth Blues and Left-Handed Soul tip his hat toward a concern for the planet and the impact of consumerism. Yet he manages to avoid making you feel like you’re listening to a sermon, achieving a languid groove and soul-inflected vocal to lull you into the dance. Its refrain is in perfect tune with the blues spirit: “I feel so cold / living in this right-handed world / with my left-handed soul…” Blues, by making social problems deeply personal, roots them in the real. This takes them from something esoteric to something anyone can relate to. It’s something black people have known since the earliest field chants, with their coded messages about ‘the man.’ In that respect, Son House was wrong: it ain’t all just about a man and a woman. Read between the lines of the early classic blues songs and coded messages of slavery and abuse practically leap out at you.

Jon gives Gonzo a workout. Silverton Gallery, Aug. 15, 2014. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon gives Gonzo a workout. Silverton Gallery, Aug. 15, 2014. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Black Crow is an utterly wonderful original with a lovely acoustic guitar line anchoring and propelling the song. The lyrics represent a fascinating growth in their songwriting: “So much possibility / so much probability… So many questions / so many answers / will they meet up in the end?” This is a questing, questioning soul, keen to make the most of possibility. And aware that it requires a crow’s watchfulness, its legendary ability to shapeshift to a new form to meet life’s challenges.

Holly takes us gracefully shuffling home in Slushy Blues, leaving you wishing there’d been time for about 10 more songs. This is the magic of the blues—you walk out half on air. That it’s taken three years to bring this impeccable performance to record is an indication of just how tough it is for blues purists trying to make a living at their craft.

WATCH for the supporting tour this fall for Shufflin’ the Blues at:

Shufflin’ The Blues CD Release Tour

  • Friday, November 18, 7:30 pm, Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre, 1007, Vernon Ave, Revelstoke, BC
  • Saturday, November 19, 8:00 pm, Lorenzo’s Cafe, Mable Lake, Enderby, BC
  • Sunday, November 20, 8:00 pm, Firevalley Concert Series, Legion Hall, Edgewood, BC
  • Friday, November 25, 7:30 pm, Silverton Memorial Hall, Silverton, BC
  • Saturday, November 26, 8:00 pm, The Front Room, Front St., Nelson, BC
  • Saturday, December 17 7:00 pm, Studio 64, 64 Deer Park Ave, Kimberley, BC

NEXT POST: Holly & Jon Interview: A–Z of the Blues.

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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