With You’re Welcome, Charlotte, NC-based Poor Blue has crafted a notably cohesive album that displays impressive range. While the tracks frequently draw from quintessential rock, blues, alt-country, and Americana sources, the three-piece band (joined occasionally by guest musicians) succeeds at expanding the abovementioned genres, in the process asserting its own signature sound.
The eleven tracks on this CD are tightly woven but retain a live and spontaneous quality, the production providing a polished framework while never obscuring the essentially raw delivery of these performances. Lyrically, the songs are anecdotal and accessibly poetic, engaging plays on such tropes as mystery, failure, rambling, love, and of course sex. Vocally, Mick E (former leader of Irish band The Mighty Shamrocks), establishes his own voice early on, drawing from and transcending the primal growl of such pioneers as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters as well as their numerous heirs from the 1960s on. Mick E’s guitar work is contained, disciplined, and innovative, intermittently reminiscent of the abovementioned heroes as well as John Fogerty, Billy Gibbons, or even Neil Young. Consistent with contemporary approaches, solos remain rhythmically anchored to the song structure while offering tasteful departures and melodic explorations.
“Walking with the King” presents vivid tableaux related to encounters with “the king,” probably a reference to Elvis but possibly or also an archetypal or dream figure conjured through contemporary lyrics. “Poor Blue” is crooned by a drifter who adopts a dog only to later abandon him in order to pursue other opportunities. In this song, Otis (Animal Bag, M4Messenger) contributes a dynamic bass line while Frank Hoffman Jr’s drums maintain a grounded tempo; Mick E’s guitar floats above the bass and drums, wafting at times, alternating between ringing chords and melodic lines. Lyrics are straightforward but evocative, narrative but open-ended, the singer standing on a “rainy street corner” as the song fades out.
“Waiting on the Light” is a high point on the CD, delivering some of the project’s most memorable hooks. Using a voice-&-respond approach, Mick E sings: “Paint my wagon/ (Gotta get back on the wagon)/ Smudge me down with sage/ (Try to act my age)/ Put the flame back in the dragon/ (Put the plug back in the flagon)” and later: “I met a girl in Belfast/ (I met a girl in Belfast)/ We were so deranged/ (Our people were estranged)/ Listening to the Outcasts/ (Listening to the Outcasts)/ Waiting on the light to change.”
“Pineapple Pussycat” is the sole instrumental on the CD, adding a sinuous, jazzy element to the recording, demonstrating the band’s ability to function in purely musical parameters. The guitar line wanders invitingly above Otis’s melodic and ambitious bass lines and Hoffman’s trebly (snare) percussion parts.
“Amanda” is another standout track, Mick E addressing a woman who is struggling, perhaps with mental illness or addiction or some other life challenge, offering his encouragement: “Got a ticket to ride today/ Going all the way to Tiger Bay/ Across the ocean and the sand/ Going home but home’s a foreign land.” And then the chorus: “Amanda/ Holding my hand out/ Over the water.”
“The Death of Arthur Lee,” an oblique tribute to the Love frontman, incorporates a darker sonic element into the project, the arrangement more sprawling, resulting in what I might call a trance-scape: “Silver lining/ Pacific highway shining/ To my left the sea/ To my right the trees.” The doubled vocals at various parts of the song add a ghostly multi-dimensionality to the overall sound. We’re “going on a journey,” Mick E sings; a journey, we gather, that may end, as the title suggests, in death. With this piece, Poor Blue is less reliant on overt hooks and classic songwriting elements and more focused on invoking and developing mood. Clocking in at over six minutes, “The Death of Arthur Lee” is the longest and perhaps most emotionally complex track on the CD, a significant expression for the band.
The closing/title track is an upbeat blues-funk affirmation and apt ending to a well-paced and well-sequenced project: “I went down to the levy to get my scripture fill/ Saw Blind Willie riding with Buffalo Bill/ He was coming down the mountain/ Giving me a grin.” Michael Licko’s saxophone solo in the middle of the track is a striking and unexpected addition, adding yet another sonic element to the CD.
You’re Welcome is a compelling romp through the landscapes of rock, blues, alt-country, and Americana, a reminder that it is indeed possible to claim original trajectories while mining traditional paradigms. Poor Blue has released a memorable album that will continue to yield new pleasures with each listen.