I have to confess that when I think of Alaska, the blues, in any shape or form, are not something that first comes to mind. Then again, there are those endless nights when the sun barely works up the nerve to stick his nose above the horizon line because the temperature is so damn cold. What else are you going to do 'side from singing the blues?
Have you ever heard Inuit throat singing? Those songs are some of the deepest shades of blue around. So if the Inuit are singing the blues and they've lived in the country for thousands of generations, it only follows that transplanted souls from south of the tree line are going to be doing the same. It's a full moon, the temperature hasn't been above minus forty in weeks; I don't know about you, but I'd be howling at the moon with the dogs after a while.
Deering & Down might have you howling at the moon, but that's only because they play a mean Memphis style blues that hearkens back to the days when country and rock and roll weren't separated by charts and business. If there were ever a Sun Record sound that permeated down through the generations, then this pair from the northern reaches seemed to have been able to tap into it.
Lahna Deering and Rev Neil Down came to Alaska independent of each other, and came together through their mutual love of the blues. After recording two critically well received albums on their own, Coupe de Villa and When A Wrong Turns Right, their third album Break This Record has been released on the new Diamond D. Records label. The disc was recorded in Memphis at Yella Brick Studios, and will go on sale in the United States on October 2nd, 2007.
One of the first things you're going to notice when listening to this disc is the "Voice." Lahna Deering sings like she swallowed every great female voice of the past hundred years, mixed them in her soul, then projected them through vocal chords scrapped raw by passions thousands of years older then her twenty some years. Your going to hear a lot about her voice in the days to come, with people comparing her to everyone from Stevie Nicks to Janis Joplin, but that's not going to tell you squat until you hear her for yourself.
At first listen, the hard edged "Finally Found The One" that opens Break This Record might make you a little disquieted by what you hear. Well that's not too surprising considering how rare it is to hear honesty at all in modern pop music, let alone in life. But don't worry, like any other new and valuable experience, you'll soon find yourself wondering how you've survived this long without it.
If there is a more perfect accompaniment to Lahna's singing than Rev Neil Down's stripped down guitar wizardry I'd be surprised. Even with a full band behind them, you can still tell how well they compliment each other. There is a fine art to playing sparse lead guitar. Instead of playing sixty-five notes a second and hopping to find the right one, you play the right one every time to far more affect. Ry Cooder, the late Zal Yanovsky of the Lovin' Spoonful, and Keith Richards when he's on, are masters of this, and Rev Neil Down is cut from the same cloth.
While Lahna's voice is in full roar, Rev Neil's guitar runs underneath filling in the blanks in a song's melody. It's almost like the guitar is singing along with her, but instead of harmonizing, it works as a counterpoint to emphasise her phrasing and emotion. Not many can carry this off, probably the only reason they succeed is because of all the miles they've traveled together, but when a guitar and voice come together like this, it's a beautiful duet.
Break This Record takes full advantage of this rare combination by showcasing all its possibilities. From the previously mentioned hard edged "Finally Found The One," the soulful "Richard Of Los Angeles," to the country-flavoured blues of "City Cow Girl," Deering & Down show they can handle anything the blues can throw at them.
Deering's voice becomes even more effective when she slows down, especially evident on "Richard Of Los Angeles" and "Abbey." The latter is a deceptive song; I was shocked to see how simple the lyrics were when I read them over after listening to it. Deering had been able to suggest so much meaning with her voice, that I heard more than what was actually being said.
To be able to communicate a sub-text is a remarkable accomplishment for any singer, and on reading through the lyrics of other songs on the disc, I saw that this was the case on more than just "Abbey". Not only does that indicate a singular vocal talent, it says volumes about the talent involved in creating the songs and the production of the album. There are subtleties at work that only incredibly skilled people can bring out, and that is a nod to the talents of Rev Neil Down, who took the lead in producing this disc.
The days of the gold rushes to Alaska and the Klondike might be long over, but that doesn't mean you still won't find the occasional treasure buried up above the tree line. On Break This Record Deering & Down prove there is still gold up in the tundra, you just have to look for it different places now.