A few weeks ago, in my preview of the Doheny Blues Fest ("Bishops, Pawns, Kings of the Blues," May 19), I wrote about bluesman Alvin "Youngblood" Hart, celebrating his return "to his country blues roots (and true calling) with 2002's DownintheAlley,an inspired collection of traditional acoustic tunes . . . . Alleywas a particularly welcome return to form, coming as it did on the heels of Hart's previous, disappointing effort, a surprisingly mundane, rock-based affair misleadingly titled StartWithYourSoul."Hart," I concluded, "is among the few youngish black performers left keeping the old-time blues flame burning; we need him now more than ever."
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Much to my surprise, the piece drew a retort from the man himself. "I don't think you know enough about me, my people & way of life to understand one iota about my 'true calling,'" he wrote. "I'm not here to tap dance for the pontificating, narrow-minded blues community. If that's what you're into, more power to ya. It ain't me. I know America has programmed its people to segregate every goddamned thing, but that ain't what music is for. START WITH THE SOUL was titled as a message to people trying to be free. Basically it meant that you can't claim to have cast off the yoke of the oppressor, yet embrace his Jesus or whatever. You have to free your own soul first and give his lies (Christians, 4th of July . . . ) all back to him, then put a hatchet in his fucking head. Understand?"
Well . . . no. I don't. Although I suspect he was implying I'm a bigot because I like it when he records amazing, soul-stirring country blues albums more than when he records run-of-the-mill rock albums, and because I believe it's important for all serious musicians to maintain the precious, endangered traditions of our forebears.
Ironically, after my piece was published but before I received Hart's email, I was sent an advance copy of Hart's latest, MotivationalSpeaker—anew electric, rock-based album.
I don't know if the title is intended as a call to cast off yokes or put hatchets in heads. But I can say—penitently, publicly—that MotivationalSpeakeris one fine album. It's eclectic but eminently musical, thunderous but mournful, haunted by the ghosts of such disparate predecessors as John Lee Hooker, Cream, Hendrix, the Meters and Merle Haggard on the one hand, and of kindred spirit with such modern artists as Steve Earle, Robert Randolph, Gov't Mule and Derek Trucks on the other. And it remains loyal to Hart's singular vision—is as remarkable and "motivational" as Soulwas self-consciously arty yet curiously routine. And even though it's not something I'll ever think of as a blues album, I'll always think of Hart as a blues artist, regardless of the other roads he travels, and whether he likes it or not.