Canadian rock guitarist Pat Travers, who has been cited by Kirk Hammett of Metallica as an influence, is not the first person who comes to mind to record an electrified, rock-based CD of classic 1920s American blues. Yet with Blues on Fire he delivers a thoroughly entertaining, modern CD of songs originally recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Willie McTell, Furry Lewis, Son House, and more.
While Travers’ gravelly voice suits these lyrics, he does not go for dark emotional depth so much as a lighter, rockier tone on most of these songs. They are club blues and, with the exception of “Death Letter,” they were meant to entertain audiences more than to bare the soul even when they were new songs. Here, though, even Bessie Smith’s rather bitter “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” gets an almost vaudeville, up-beat treatment.
“Death Letter” is an exception. This very dark song,originally sung by Son House, tells the story of a man who gets a letter telling him that the woman he loves is dead. Traveling home, he finds her already laid out on the cooling board. Travers delivers the song in a very traditional blues style, with the same somber delivery the subject matter requires.
“Bulldozer Blues” is probably my personal favorite track. It’s such a fun song, with places where the vocal imitates the guitar to crate a vaudeville-type atmosphere that would make a perfect party piece.
The rest of the songs are pretty much straight-out rock with blues lyrics. One of the joys of the CD is that Travers and his drummer and keyboard player seem to be having such a good time, and that translates to the listener. Of course, there are a lot of tasty guitar solos and outstanding musicianship on display throughout. I should also mention that the cover art and sleeve design are exceptional as well.
Blues on Fire will be a treat for Pat Travers fans, blues fans, and fans of blues rock. I feel that the old blues greats would approve.