First published in Songlines Magazine issue 106, March 2015.
King Hokum Records (41 mins)
Australian bluesman C.W. Stoneking’s last album, Jungle Blues, made the international scene sit up and take notice. The mix of the old styles – blues, calypso, boogie – held together by vaudevillian wit and that straight-out-of-the-20s voice felt refreshingly real, even if his stories were tall. That was in 2008.
Since then, he’s been working on something different – with Gon’ Boogaloo, Stoneking goes electric, but this is no ‘Judas’ moment. Accompanying himself on a Fender Jazzmaster guitar throughout, he’s shifted slightly from hokum and calypso, looking instead towards the birth of electric blues, gospel and jump blues: think Elmore James, Blind Willie Johnson and Louis Jordan. His group has changed too – gone are the horns, leaving bass, drums and four female backing singers, who work to give a nice bright contrast to Stoneking’s rounded-off voice.
From the laid-back cheeriness of ‘Goin’ Back South’ to ‘The Zombie’, a piece so dark it must surely become a Halloween staple, Stoneking covers a whole range of atmospheres and emotions on the album, but with all tracks doused in the same sense of humour and mastery of the genre that makes him special.
So, after six years, does Gon’ Boogaloo live up to the wait? You bet.