Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt

Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt
Slide to Freedom 2

Northern Blues (NBM0053)

By Georgetown Fats
August 2009

To paraphrase Kathleen Whitney Barr, “I know blues music when I hear it”. Given my track record for reviews, I may be labeled a blues purist. Slide to Freedom 2 is not a blues disk. Slide to Freedom 2 IS wildly ambitious and inspirational world music project blending elements of blues, pop, traditional Indian instrument and gospel.

From the opening tabla rhythm on “Make a Better World” the band locks in, blending the bass and resophonic Lap-style guitars with Satvik Veena

John Boutte’s soulful vocals and lyrics inspire with power rarely heard in ‘pop music’. Bhatt’s solo on the Satvik Veena and Cox’ solo on the resonator do just enough to show their undeniable skills on their respective instruments without taking away from the song.

“A Letter Home” is an instrumental which starts off with either an extended run on the Satvik Veena and/or the Mohan Veena, having a very limited knowledge of traditional Indian Music, I would not be able to claim to know the difference. The slide sound and use of glissandi are not unlike bottle neck acoustic guitar, just with an added level of color. There is a lot going on in this track, but yet it never reaches a self involved or repetitive point.

John Boutte is back on “I Scare Myself,” adding his soulful vocals over another musical fusion track. It is a hauntingly beautiful track about lost love and personal destruction. Dinah D’s bass line holds this track all together and is the foundation which allows the interplay between Cox’s resonator and Bhatt’s veena. At roughly five minutes long, hopefully this track will gain crossover appeal of Triple A radio.

“Amazing Grace” is a yet another interesting treatment on what is considered to be a religious hymn. I have heard punk versions of “Amazing Grace”, solo performances, bagpipe instrumentals, traditional choral arrangements and gospel treatments. I love them all. I now have found my favorite recorded version of this hymn. The background music is sparse and understated allowing Boutte the room to lay down an awe-inspiring vocal track.

“For You Blue” is another blues fusion track. Cox kicks off the track with a brief resonator fill before Dinah D lays down another Blues bass line. It is another 12 bar progression with fills on both the resonator and Satvik Veena. Ramkumar Mishra’s work on the Tabla mimics a basic shuffle groove on a drum set. It is unique to hear that traditional drum groove without any use of cymbals, but it works.

“Freedom Raga” implements the Veena with traditional blues stop time. Yet again another work of musical genius. First Cox provides the accents and flourishes with his Resonator while Bhatt adds a rhythm track with his Veena, then they switch, and then they trade solos, all while Dinah D lays just enough of a bass groove down to keep the time flowing while Ramkumar Mishra pulls a ridiculous amount of notes from his tabla and percussion. In addition to this outstanding musicianship on the track, Boutte performs a lyrical vamp loaded with gospel tones.

With two more instrumentals (“Blessings” and “The Moods of Madhuvanti”) Slide to Freedom 2 is eight tracks with the ability to have even the toughest critic singing “Kumbaya” or “We are the world” with their neighbors. Northern Blues deserves credit and respect for releasing this disk and Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt deserve all of the professional credits and awards they are bound to receive. This disk and project is something special, hopefully Fred Litwin & Company receive the appropriate financial incentive to release a “Slide to Freedom 3”.

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