First let me declare an interest. The slow hand that plays some of these
tasty blues licks also co-signs my paychecks. That being said, I'll try
to live up to my usual snide and dismissive standards in reviewing
Gavan Andersson's 2007 EP Youth in Asia.
Let me establish independence right from the start by saying that the
tired pun of the title, and the amatuerish-looking artwork on the cover
of the CD, does nothing to inspire confidence in the quality of the music
within. Before listening, one gets the impression of a jaded Vietnam vet
with delusions of talent.
One couldn't be more wrong. Gavan Andersson is a justly famous working
guitarist who has played with many of the who's who of Australian rock.
He currently tours with Andy Cowan, a blues man's gig to die for. This
is his first solo recording, and his reputation alone makes it worth a
listen. From the first slide notes of the first track Layin' The Rails,
Andersson establishes firmly that his reputation is built on fact rather
than hype. Tasty and restrained slide work dominates the track.
The real surprise is that Andersson has a nice seen-it-all gritty
mid-range blues voice, with the ability to deliver a line and pull you
into the story of the song. The lyrics make it an odd mix. From words
like “Tennant Creek” and “Oodnadatta” we know
we are on an Australian rail-laying team, but the accent and style make
it sound like an American rail-drivin' song. This kind of cross-cultural
mix, reminiscent of the earlier days of Australian rock and blues, is
evident on several tracks. No matter, it still works.
The programmed drum tracks are jarring at first. On such a blues-laden
recording, one almost expects the inimitable warmth of a real drummer
with real feel. That being said, the drum tracks are tastefully done,
wisely downplayed, minimal and unobtrusive. Although the album is
competently recorded, it doesn't have the sheen and warmth of a top
studio album, which is a pity because Andersson's performance deserves
The second track shows a wider range, with a touch of Steely Dan
in the sophisticated chordal structure, and a biting satire on the
current parlous state of television. It's nicely set off with some
well-judged sax work from Jimmy Sloggett.
Tracks are generally uncluttered, going for groove and the odd tasty
lick. These are blues ballads, providing a setting for the lyric rather
than extended solos (though there are one or two very nice keyboard
excursions). The third track Strangers Hands features some
sprightly Hammond work from Andy Cowan.
It should be noted that Andersson is not just a singer/guitarist. He
plays not just banjo, mandolin and bass, but also has a nice harmonica
style, and even makes the odd excursion on flute. It would be nice to
hear more from this acerbic, knowing performer. He deserves top-notch
production, real drums and above all a wider audience.