Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt, with Ramkumar Mishra and

Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt, with Ramkumar Mishra and
Slide to Freedom

Northern Blues Music NBM0039

By Karen Nugent
December 2007

Blues-Indian fusion?

This disc had been sitting in the basket for months Ė with me thinking that the whole concept was just too preposterous to be a candidate for a review on a blues site. Yet I couldnít seem to throw it into the “no” bag, and one day I finally popped it in the car CD player.

What a surprise. Itís an amazing disc. Though not really blues, it does have “Pay Day” by Mississippi John Hurt for the opening track, and “Soul of a Man” by Blind Willie Johnson a few songs later. But the record as a whole is reminiscent of George Harrison with Ravi Shankar (or the background music in an upscale Indian restaurant.)

However, itís still a great disc, and a more or less successful combining of the two genres, especially if one concentrates on the slide playing, and is willing to be a little open-minded.

Cox, a Canadian Dobro player who has worked as a sideman and frontman for several bands, also plays guitar, mandolin, and a variety of slide instruments Iíve never heard of. Lots of his music has been on television and film soundtracks.

On Slide to Freedom, he plays something called the resophonic guitar, two of them, actually: one wooden, and one made of aluminum. I donít know what they are, but they sure sound great.

Salil Bhatt is a 10th generation member of the Bhatt family of musicians who have been making music in India for 500 years or so. He is the son of V.H. (Vishwa Mohan) Bhatt, a legendary Indian slide player who is also featured twice on the disc. The elder Bhatt, who is well-known all over the world, invented a stringed instrument used in Indian classical music called the mohan veena, which, Iíve heard, is actually a modified Archtop guitar with 19 strings, played on the lap. A tumba or gourd is screwed into the backside of the neck for improved sound quality and vibration.

V.H. Bhatt won a Grammy in 1994 with Ry Cooder, and was highly thought of by both Harrison and Eric Clapton. He has also done fusion albums with Bela Flack and Tah Mahal.

Salil Bhatt, the son, is a big star in his country, and has performed on U.S. television. His instrument, the satvik veena, has 20 strings Ė three for melody, five for drone and 12 sympathetic strings. The combination gives it an expressive, emotional feel with background nuances, especially on the third track, “Arabian Night,” an instrumental which last for more than eight minutes.

Much of the album consists of instrumental compositions of many slide instruments, as the title implies. The only vocals come on the two blues songs, and “Beware of the Man (who calls you Bro),” a pleasing original by Cox, who sings well enough on it.

One of the best of the eight tracks has one of the two guest appearances by V.M. Bhatt. “Father Kirwani” lasts for nearly eight minutes, but has incredible creativity, expression, and mastery of his instrument. And, it actually sounds somewhat bluesy.

He also plays good blues on “Soul of a Man.” Iím pretty sure a few of the lines were changed here, but maybe not. Cox sings about being, “crashed out in a temple” with someone teaching doctors and lawyers how to raise men from the dead. It just sounds so Eastern and far out, man.

I also like the last track, an instrumental by Cox called “Meeting by the Liver” which also shows great expressive talent with its cresendos and gliding strings.

Ramkumar Mishra, the othe band member, plays those familiar Indian hand drums Ė tabla.

The disc also has excellent sound quality, thanks to topnotch engineering by Miles Wilkinson. It was recorded and mixed in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; and in Wilkinsonís Nashville studio.

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