Fiona Boyes

Fiona Boyes
Blues Woman

Yellow Dog Records

By Mike Mellor
November 2009

A lot has been said about Fiona Boyes; her mastery of acoustic guitar, her prowess on electric, her ability to play songs across the sub-genre spectrum, her powerful voice. She has been a darling on the American scene since coming from Australia six years ago to win the International Blues Challenge solo/duo competition, seizing glowing press, celebrity endorsements (e.g. Marcia Ball, Watermelon Slim) and Blues Music Awards nominations for everything she does. Her latest release, Blues Woman, surely won’t slow down that train.

I can't argue with most of the things people say about her. She is indeed a fine guitarist and she has equal command of everything from pre-war acoustic blues to Stax-style soul music. The problem is that the versatility and technical chops meet with cornpone songwriting (“A woman she ain't a mule / If you think that's how you ought to treat me / Well, I'm taking you back to school / 'Cause a woman ain't a mule”) and a persona that was annoying when Sapphire-The Uppity Blues Women did it. The mix ends up making her sound like a blues tourist, fanny pack safely fastened around her waist as she jumps from Texas to Louisiana to Mississippi to Memphis to Muscle Shoals.

Blues Woman works better on the boogie-woogie and soul-influenced tracks like “Train To Hopesville” and “Do You Feel Better” than it does on the bluesier ones like “Old Time Ways” and “City Born Country Gal.” It might be because her voice fits most naturally into those forms or because they are most in producer “Kaz” Kazmanoff’s comfort zone, but they are also where she loses her gender shtick. I’ve read quotes where Boyes wishes to no longer be seen as a (foreign female) novelty act, but she is just being complicit in the stereotyping by naming an album Blues Woman and singing songs like “Celebrate the Curves” and “A Woman Ain’t a Mule.”

Boyes ultimately has a lot going for her, considering not only her great natural talent but also her clear enthusiasm for what she does. I just don't think making records with studio musicians and rehashing the imagery and language of the pastoral American south is most suitable for her. Some people can play with the old tropes and make something new out of them (see Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade), but Boyes isn't one of them. I would rather hear her take the touring band into the studio and make a more matted-sounding record, with a stylistic focus and lyrics more reflective of her personal experience.

That, I think, could bring her to the level to which her praisers are trying to raise her.

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