Album Review

You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

By Seasick Steve

Liberation
6.5 / 10
5th July 2011

By Ricardo Kerr


“Maybe I need to change my style / been this way for a long long while” ponders “Seasick” Steve Wold on the title track from his new album. For his fans, changing his style is the last thing to be expected from the man and they will not be disappointed with what they find. Rough edged blues has always been his stock in trade and it still is on his newly released fifth album You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks. Stylistically it is most similar to his previous album, 2009’s Man From Another Time, reflected in his guitar-heavy agenda and sharpening production values.

As on his previous albums Seasick Steve has two hats to wear: confessional country-folk troubadour and guitar swinging blooze hero. He divides his time evenly between the two but it is his quieter numbers that bite the hardest. Opening track ‘Treasures’ is a threadbare ballad with a heartbreaking fiddle that tugs as hard as the bittersweet lyrics. ‘Whiskey Ballad’ is familiar ground for blues artists, their love-hate relationship with alcohol, but here the bottle is portrayed as positively uplifting (even using a washboard to great effect). Try and listen to the song without reaching for a drink or, alternatively, a twelve step programme. The cathartic Johnny Cash-like ‘Long Long Way’ closes out the disc. It is quintessentially Seasick Steve in its down home wisdom and backwater instrumentation. Listen carefully and you can hear a mandolin among the banjos, guitars, and backing choir.

On the flip side, his guitar rock is good solid fun but there are many others out there (Joe Bonamassa or George Thorogood for example) that do it just as well if not better for him to really stand out. These tracks do however benefit from the latest weapon in Steve’s arsenal: the bass guitar. Who better to rock up Wold’s blues than John Paul “other guy from Led Zeppelin” Jones, fresh from his intermittent gig with Them Crooked Vultures. He brings the much desired crunch and groove to tracks like ‘Back in the Doghouse’ and the title track. ‘Days Gone’ barrels forward like a freight train only slowing down to let the verses sink in. That is Seasick Steve’s music in a nutshell; some damned fine lyrics that drip with joy and regret caked in enjoyable blues.

Ultimately, You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks lives up to its name. There are no new tricks here, just an exploration of how his old ones can develop organically. It is a pleasant album for blues fans of all denominations. He may not reinvent the wheel but for now we can be perfectly content with this old dog’s old tricks. If he intends to continue releasing an album every two years he might do well to find at least one new trick for his next outing.






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