Suzie Vinnick reached an artistic pinnacle of sorts with 2008’s Happy Here, an utterly flawless set of impeccably produced, shimmery pop crafted with care.
So what to do next? With Me ‘N’ Mabel, a generous collection of blues covers, originals, and a surprise or two, Vinnick delivers a stripped-down set that showcases her powerful, percussive guitar work and richly nuanced vocals to excellent effect.
Mabel, it turns out, is Vinnick’s favorite guitar, a lovely maple parlour acoustic, though several other guitars are featured for instrumental variety. Also appearing are old friends Rick Fines (guitar on a pair, with a vocal on one) and Tony Diteodoro (usually known simply as Tony D; he, too, contributes guitar to a couple of tunes). Canada’s unsung hero of the harp, Roly Platt, is on hand as well with some exquisite harmonica on two tunes, while Chris Whiteley adds an old-timey feel with some sly cornet on Vinnick’s own “Oh My.”
Instrumental contributions are excellent throughout, no surprise given the talent on hand. And Suzie, well known as a vocalist both on her own and as icing on the cake of many a session, proves herself a fine picker as well with some genuinely dazzling fretwork that, for all its fire and fury, remains firmly focused on the song.
Vinnick also composed four (three with help) of the disc’s tracks, with tunes including the sultry “Save Me For Later” and the playful yet wistful “The Honey I Want,” while “Sometimes I Think I Can Fly” is a harrowing rumination on looking at the world through the bottom of a bottle. Elsewhere are standards like Jimmy Rogers’ “Walkin’ By Myself,” Percy Mayfield’s immortal “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” and Lonnie Mack’s “Oreo Cookie Blues.” Suzie gets swampy with a raucous run through Slim Harpo’s “Queen Bee” (originally “King Bee,” but the song’s been gender-reassigned ad infinitum), and takes a stroll through New Orleans with “I Can Tell.” One of the disc’s many highlights is a strutting rendition of fellow Canadian Rita Chiarelli’s “Get Some.” Surprises include a relatively rare, early Dylan song (“Quit Your Lowdown Ways”) and a harp-driven cover of “Never Been To Spain,” written by Hoyt Axton and originally made famous by Three Dog Night.
Contributions from guests are uniformly tasteful, all calculated to highlight and support Vinnick’s delivery. Guitars add just that bit of extra depth, Whiteley’s cornet sets the mood, and Platt is nothing short of revelatory, his harmonica understated yet exquisitely expressive. And Vinnick simply soars, her voice a powerful yet supple marvel throughout. Some artists simply sing their songs, their artistry carrying the day; Vinnick seems to inhabit each tune, living within the song for its duration, and the effect is engagingly intimate and enthralling.
This is wonderful stuff!