CANDY STORE KID
Ian Siegal & The Mississippi Mudbloods
Last year about this time, when Ian Siegal released The Skinny, yours truly posited in a review in TheBluegrassSpecial.com that not only was the Cody Dickinson-produced long player Siegal’s best effort yet, but that he, the Dickinson Brothers and the Burnsides and Kimbroughs who helped him out in the studio ought to give it another go, because they had something special happening down in Coldwater, Mississippi, in the late, great Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch Studio. It’s highly unlikely yours truly had anything to do with it, but in fact Siegal did return to the Zebra Ranch, again enlisting Cody Dickinson as producer and drummer (and keyboards, and percussion…), along with his brother Luther on guitar (and other instruments), Alvin Youngblood Hart on guitar and bass, Garry Burnside on guitar and bass, plus a trio of deeply gospel-rooted female vocalists (Stephanie Bolton and Sharisse and Shontelle Norman) for a little extra atmosphere. Well, if Ian didn’t up and top himself this time. Candy Store Kid is some profound demonstration of gutbucket hill country blues, expertly played and soulfully rendered, with a decided esprit de corps emanating from each track—it’s obvious these folks enjoy making this music, and that they especially enjoy making it with each other.
Ian Siegal & the Mississippi Mudbloods, ‘I Am the Train,’ from Candy Store Kid
Siegal doesn’t even have to carry the whole load. Though he is always quick to downplay his “so-called singing,” that’s Luther Dickinson drawling “Kingfish,” his co-write with Siegal, in a laconic manner that suggests some filthy goings on in his back yard, a point he makes more overtly with his stinging slide work. Lightnin’ Malcolm shows up to add his voice to that of Siegal’s and the testifying gals’ on his own “So Much Trouble,” a thick brew of foreboding guitars, disembodied voices and pained shouts worrying about hard times and social upheaval at loose in the land. Garry Burnside’s rolling-and-tumbling acoustic guitar riff kicks off the guitar-heavy, herky-jerky maelstrom that is his own “Strong Power,” one of the more unusual, and intense, love songs you’re likely to hear in this or any other year, and he pitches in a forceful vocal to complement Siegal’s in an arrangement in which twin guitars weave dazzling, lyrical lines around each other.
Siegal’s own songs hardly play second fiddle to these. His greasy “Loose Cannon” posits a number of alternative guises for the singer, all unpredictable and not all safe for democracy, and Siegal inhabits each persona fully, swinging his vocal in the middle section with bracing insouciance and setting up a fiery guitar solo. His raspy voice is most effective on the bustling charge of “I Am the Train,” featuring Luther cutting loose righteously on slide a bit past midway on this tune with a topical edge, seeing as how it seems to have issues with politicians (“secular and saved”), includes the fiery imagery of “a hundred million effigies are burning across the land/like so many heartfelt messages delivered by my hand,” and scolds an affluent, exploitative society. How much of the message actually gets through is another question, as “I Am the Train” is hardly the type of fare you sit and ponder—it’s designed to jolt you out of your seat, if not out of your apathy. On the throbbing “The Fear,” Siegal sings at what seems like the very bottom of his register, rumbling pointed, cautionary advice about taking charge of your life (that’s “the fear in your heart…”), concluding with this bit of sensitive advice to the wary: “let love in your heart, let love in your soul, let love fill your spirit, let love make you whole.”
On the road and on stage with Ian Siegal & the Mudbloods (Paddy Milner, keyboards; Cody Dickison, drums; Luther Dickinson, guitar). At the Belgium Rhythm & Blues Festival, 2011.
As was true of The Skinny, so it is of Candy Store Kid: this record feels alive. That’s due in part to Cody Dickinson’s vibrant, striking production—is he not establishing himself as one of the best roots producers around?—but even he couldn’t do much absent the players’ commitment to Siegal’s vision. There’s no formula stuff going on here; everything comes from the heart, and it’s real. Being in the midst of it all as it went down, Siegal must have felt like, well, a kid in a candy store.
Memo to Ian: Third time’s the charm.