When I get a new release to review where the lead performer is billed as a “contemporary blues/rock guitarist/singer/songwriter,” I get nervous. Whether I like the album or not, I know I’ll be straining and stretching to find fresh adjectives and new ways to describe the artist that will distinguish them from all the other contemporary blues rock guitarists out there who sing and write their own material. Then again, this is a genre I can’t get enough of.
Produced by David Z, Detonation isn’t Dave Fields’ debut collection. Time’s A Wastin (2007) and All Wound Up (2008) contained singles like “Still Itchin’” and “Train To My Heart,” the latter a tune John Mayall recorded on his 2009 Tough. Despite being completely ignorant of these discs, I can easily say I liked Dave Fields’ Detonation from the first notes of the opening track, “Addicted to Fire.” It reminded me a bit of Sly and the Family Stone if Jimi Hendrix had been their axeman. Now, that’s the first pitfall for a reviewer, comparing and contrasting new folks—at least new to me—with the names of those who readers are likely to be familiar with. But it’s not hard to think of Hendrix when hearing Fields bending, twisting, phasing, crunching, wah-wahing, drawing every note out, rather than simply playing fluid, linear solos. And he does all that in nearly every song.
As Detonation progressed, I kept thinking more and more that Fields is in the direct lineage of Stevie Ray Vaughn. For one matter, his supporting band sounds eerily like Double Trouble with the group consisting of Andy Huenerberg (bass), Kenny Soule (drums), and Vladimir Barsky (keyboards). Barsky, in particular, really fills the space around Fields, and the rhythm section provides the drive, allowing the front man to take off on his flights and jams. This is especially true of hard rockin’ blues numbers like “Doin Hard Time” and the traditional slow blues on “Pocket Full Of Dust.” To be clear, my comparisons to Vaughn refer to the musicianship and not the vocals. This isn’t to say Fields is in any way deficient in that department, but rather that his usually raspy voice isn’t reminiscent of anyone in particular, at least any singer that springs to my mind.
Beyond the blues tradition, many of the songs evoke completely different musical forbearers. The slow proclamation about freeing your mind, “Prophet In Disguise,” is very, very Hendrix and a real flashback to the late ‘60s. The humorous “Bad Hair Day” is funky reggae and “Same Old Me” is a slow ballad in the mold of Journey, Kansas, or Styx with a smoother vocal delivery than Fields’ rougher tunes. The instrumental “Lydia” has touches of Jimmy Page, one of Field’s admitted influences. The album concludes with the very poppy “You Will Remember Me,” which might earn airplay on stations that don’t emphasize the pure blues.
In short, Detonation offers a wide palate of electric music, with the only real consistency being Fields virtuosity on his axe. The guitar, after all, is the topic he refers to most frequently throughout the lyrics of his songs. In the end, I wouldn’t describe him as blues rock—I’d say rock blues. However one tips the formula, it’s an energetic program by a man so clearly in love with his music.
While I’m behind the curve discovering Dave Fields, I hope Detonation is typical of his earlier work. I see I have some catching up to do. That is, after playing Detonation again and a bit louder. I hope Stevie Ray will forgive me. I suspect, if he was still with us, he’d get “Addicted to Fire” as well.