Music review: Alvin Youngblood Hart

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SO RETRO that he even mentions the good old days of MySpace, the 54-year-old, Grammy-winning American blues singer and guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart has a very contemporary rags to riches tale, of the sort which every good blues player needs. It begins with his years employed by the US Coastguard (although Hart’s own life story actually began in Oakland, California, in 1963), then moves on to his brother’s cattle ranch in Mississippi, where he learned a cattle call which he demonstrated to his audience here.

Stramash, Edinburgh ***

The final link in the tale brings together his ranch-hand days with the use of the same call in the ragged, downtrodden How Long Before I Change My Clothes, a song which represented one of his career highs - it formed part of Hart’s soundtrack to Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters (2007), and he was invited to perform it in the film by the actor/director. This track exemplified the best of his set, and how each of his finest songs bore a certain cinematic quality; including, for obvious reasons, the rich storytelling of Illinois Blues, which appeared in Martin Scorsese’s documentary The Blues.

Over a little more than two hours, Hart and the duo backing him on bass and drums delivered music which was rich in reverence for the good old days, although with its own personality and the very useful secret weapon that is Hart’s commanding baritone voice. They strayed into reggae on Just About to Go, gnarly, harmonica-laden blues on the Rolling Stones tribute Watching Brian Jones, and wrested In My Time of Dying from Led Zeppelin’s clutches. The set perhaps felt a little overstuffed, but his audience stayed with him from peak to peak.

DAVID POLLOCK