Fiona Boyes is an amazing blues performer from Australia with a great husky voice and a love for unusual instruments. This self-produced album features simple but effective arrangements. Boyes plays a six-string “Box and Dice” cigar box guitar, which gives the album its title and a four-string cigar box guitar, a National Reso-lectric baritone guitar, and a custom-made Maton Mastersound Electric. She is joined by Dean Addison on double bass and Mark Gundren on drums and percussion, which includes ropes, chains, and a pocket full of coins.
These unusual instruments ensure a different and interesting sound, but do not think of this album as a novelty. It’s not that at all. The songs include nine great originals and three marvelous covers. It is sort of funny to hear this Australian artist sing about “Louisiana” and “Tallahassee,” but we all know that the blues creates spiritual homes to go along with our physical ones.
The album opens with Boyes’ own “Juke Joint on Moses Lane,” using her evocative finger-style picking to emphasize the tune and her husky vocal. She uses the six-string again for “I’m A Stranger Here,” which reflects the melancholy starkness of traditional spirituals from the American South, and (for one of this reporter’s favorite tracks) “Mama’s Sanctified Amp” and the folk blues of “I Done Quit.”
Boyes switches to the four-string for “Louisiana” and the amusing “Tiny Pinch of Sin.” She brings out the rare Reso-lectric for “Walking Around Money,” which features Gundren on pocket change appropriately enough. The baritone guitar is also featured on “Walk With Me” and for a great cover of “Black Mountain Blues,” a song by J.C. Christian (which was sung by Bessie Smith and later by Janis Joplin). She uses her regular electric for a smoking version of “Smokestack Lightning” and a cover of Magic Sam’s “Easy Baby” that really lets her show her chops.
This album is simply an example of how great stripped-down blues can be. Boyes has a great voice for the blues. She and her band have lots of instrumental style and ability. Boyes is a strong songwriter, too. Check her out.