Alvin Youngblood Hart
Start With the Soul
Hannibal HNCD 1449

Alvin Youngblood Hart has made a name for himself in a hurry. His 1996 debut release, Big Mamas Door, led to a W.C. Handy Award for Best New Blues Artist. Territory, the acclaimed follow-up, won critics polls in Downbeat and Living Blues. Both discs, particularly the latter, mixed new-fangled Mississippi blues with elements of old-timey country music and anything else he felt like. Territory even included a Captain Beefheart instrumental.

For his third release, Hart has gone electric in a big way. Working in a power trio format, Hart plugs in and pushes the pedals to create a sort of updated 60s rock. Several of the tunes, such as "The Hustler" and "Fightin Hard," sound like Jimi Hendrix outtakes. Thats not necessarily a bad thing, but much of the rock on Start doesnt strike me as particularly individual or at all distinctive I dont hear his personality come through on these songs.

Fortunately theres more to the record than three-chord rock. "Once Again" features Hart speaking over a blues groove and showcasing his no-frills guitar work. The vocals are purposefully muddied, almost like a Tom Waits narrative. That song leads into "Porch Monkeys Theme," a funky, soulful instrumental reminiscent of the Meters. "Electric Eel" follows, with a slow, slithering, sinister sound straight from the jungle.

By now, the record is starting to work its magic. Then Hart takes the listener "Back to Memphis," a one-chord autobiographical journey chronicling his recent move from the Bay Area to Memphis. And what Alvin Hart recording would be complete without a song from the range? This time out its "Cowboy Boots," with Hart confessing his desire for a pair of his own.

Only on "A Prophets Mission" and "Will I Ever Get Back Home" does Hart show us his great skill as a propulsive finger-picking guitarist. I dont begrudge him the right to expand and experiment, but these are the songs that really touch my soul.

Most of Start With the Soul is interesting, challenging, and occasionally brilliant; some of it is less successful. Pick the tunes you like and enjoy.

David Feld

©2000 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA