Fiona Boyes

Fiona Boyes
Lucky 13

Yellow Dog Records YDR 1353

By Art Tipaldi
July 2007

Fiona Boyes is a musical anomaly: she is a fair haired, hard pickin’, down home, country blues master, yet she has lived all her life "down under" in Australia - light years from the Mississippi Delta. However, Fiona understands our blues as deeply as if she had been raised on Dockery’s plantation.

Like her idol, the great Memphis Minnie, Fiona plays with a strength and purpose, and that talent and commitment has not gone unnoticed. In a relatively short period, Fiona has met with the top names in American blues. This rising blues star is primed to find her place in the American roots and blues with her new record, Lucky 13.

There’s so much to like in Fiona’s U.S. debut.

First, there is the pure country blues growl in her voice. It’s a voice that carries the power of early county blues masters such as Charley Patton or Son House. Picture what Memphis Minnie might have sounded like if she recorded a decade earlier. Next, there is her guitar playing, which alternates between her precise acoustic finger picking stretches, her slippery steel bodied guitar, and her explosive electric guitar grooves.

Fiona is also a proficient songwriter. Her understanding of American roots music and her clever story telling distinguish her songs from records that merely cover blues standards. Her exquisite touch with words and music in creating just the right mood for each song will have listeners wondering, ‘Haven’t I heard this song before?’ Her 10 originals on Lucky 13 flawlessly recreate musical genres and locales where American roots music flourished.

The opening tune, "Chicken Wants Corn," kicks the record into high gear with its rockin’ Bonnie Raitt style. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is simply electric blues-rock. Fiona first discovered the blues when she heard pre-war acoustic country blues. And that is where her musical soul thrives.

Thus, at times her music and her lyrics have the ambient feel of the 1920s. There are songs such as "Celebrate The Curves," "Pigmeat Lover," "Rambling Man Blues," and "Homesick Blues," where Boyes is committed to preserving the sassy spirit of blues originators like Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie.

With Kaz Kazanoff’s expert production and arrangements, Boyes and Marcia Ball resurrect the music and spunk of the classic blues women when they duet on "Celebrate The Curves." Stan Smith’s soaring clarinet, Mark Rubin’s bottomless tuba, Marcia’s piano, and Kaz’s Texas Horns center this tune in the 1920s.

Led by Marcia’s rolling New Orleans piano, the same personnel parade "You Gonna Miss Me" right down Bourbon Street, second line style.

Kaz and his Texas Horns add a 1940s texture to Fiona’s nod to Louis Jordan on "Big, Bigger, Biggest." There’s also some 1950s rockabilly, and 1950s R&B.

Fiona’s own modern day pain and womanly wise articulations spiral throughout the aching ballad of lost love, "Stranger In Your Eyes."

Fiona and her good friend Bob Margolin sit knee to knee on two of the record’s deepest blues cuts. On Lillian McMurry’s "Red Hot Kisses," she and Bob effortlessly modernize the music with their back-and-forth personal testifying, and stylish guitar picking. On "Good Lord Made You So," they trade guitar jabs in the style of early Chicago blues, when only a guitar and drum played all night on Maxwell Street. As one of the few guitarists alive who can play Muddy Waters’ signature slide, Margolin and his slide are the roux that gives these songs their soul.

In another time and place, these Boyes originals could have been sung by Minnie in a Memphis juke, or at a Chicago house party.

This debut recording is a joyous homecoming for this blues spirit whose musical spirit came of age in another country.

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