Thunder's Mouth, CD by Scott Ainslie

"From the first chord -- struck like a call to worship -- Scott Ainslie's new CD, Thunder's Mouth, pulls you forward in your seat and commands your attention.
-Jon Potter, Brattleboro Reformer, Brattleboro VT

Ainslie merges musicianship and meaning on new CD
With a little help from some talented friends

Jon Potter, The Brattleboro Reformer

From the first chord -- struck like a call to worship -- Scott Ainslie's new CD, Thunder's Mouth, pulls you forward in your seat and commands your attention.

In his first release since The Feral Crow in 2004, Ainslie manages both to return to his roots as a bluesman and to continue to push his art forward.

Ably abetted by a dream team of musicians -- cellist Eugene Friesen, guitarist Sam Broussard and musical Renaissance man T-Bone Wolk -- Ainslie has assembled 10 songs which walk some fine lines -- between darkness and light, mud-caked grit and polished lyricism, tears of sorrow and tears of anger -- and do so with great artistry.

Fans of Ainslie's will see Thunder's Mouth as a synthesis of his blues roots, the meaningful new directions he explored on The Feral Crow and recent collaborations with other musicians, most notably a concert in Brattleboro last December when he and Friesen joined forces for what turned out to be a singularly beautiful event.

Newcomers to Ainslie will appreciate Thunder's Mouth for what it is -- the work of a soulful, seasoned musician working with a full and ever-expanding palate of expressive tools. More simply put, Thunder's Mouth is a well-crafted and engaging album that will appeal to you on many levels.

Although the blues are always present in Ainslie's work, they were not emphasized in The Feral Crow. By contrast, Thunder's Mouth opens with three songs brought up from the mud of the Mississippi Delta.

"This is a rootsy record, and this is the first record to follow The Feral Crow. The darkness territory of some of 'Feral Crow' is here. ... It's just 150 years old," said Ainslie as we chatted about the new CD in his Brattleboro home.

Thus, the album opens with J.B. Lenoir's Down in Mississippi, a straight-up blues with fine guitar work by Ainslie. Next up is an interesting cut, Grinnin' In Your Face, a Son House tune that features only Ainslie's voice and asymmetrical foot percussion -- a pared down sound that delivers its message of resilience in the face of oppression with a preacher's power. The third tune, Oil in my Vessel, stays in the blues pocket and features a slide guitar solo by Broussard that prompted Ainslie to exclaim seemingly involuntarily, "God bless Sam," as we listened.

Thunder's Mouth stays in blues territory throughout with Robert Johnson's Dust My Broom and Another Man Done Gone, a chilling song which positively hisses with darkness.

Those blues songs are all well and good, certainly food for the soul, but what stands out on "Thunder's Mouth" are the four Ainslie originals. Beautiful in their own right, those songs seem to have brought out the best in all the musicians -- they're the ones that span genres and offer the best hope for radio play and some well-deserved wider recognition for Ainslie.

Case in point, It's Gonna Rain, a song of love and loss written in June 2005, which was transformed by Hurricane Katrina into an elegy for New Orleans, its imagery of falling water taking on new poignancy. This is, simply, a beautiful ballad set against a loping, sighing pulse. All the musicians shine -- Friesen's lovely, understated cello weaves gently around the sad lyrics; Broussard's guitar supplies the raindrops; Wolk does a turn on the accordion which sets the whole thing simmering in an authentic Cajun roux. This is the song that you will play over and over again; it's the one with, perhaps, the best hope of wider airplay.

But it's not my favorite. I keep coming back to track 8, I Should Get Over This. Here, Ainslie ventures perhaps as far as he's ever been from blues country, with a song that opens with a bouncy, upbeat pulse played on muted guitar. It sounds reggae-ish or Caribbean -- not far off -- but its roots are really with West African guitarists (which links it back to the blues). Whatever it is, the pulse and the tune are completely infectious -- and in delightful contrast with the bittersweet nature of the lyrics. Friesen's cello, by turns playful and funky and then thoughtful and lyrical, just adds to it all. I can't get enough of it.

If Anybody Asks Me is more bluesy, but shares with I Should Get Over This its direct sonic link to Africa, notably due to Ainslie's gourd banjo-playing.

The title track wraps up the CD and ventures into the darkest territory on it. With lyrics that reach across a century or two, from the falling tears of slaves to the falling twin towers, Thunder's Mouth pulls no punches in its dramatic reach. Again, the musicians are in fine form, with Broussard's expressive, plaintiff, wailing guitar a particularly effective addition.

The one incongruous song on the album is a tender tune from Tom Waits, Little Trip to Heaven. A favorite of Ainslie's, it's there because, as he put it, "every record needs something sweet."

In addition to the musicians, credit must go to Grammy Award-winner Corin Nelson who mixed and mastered the CD at Imaginary Road Studios.

When the last, low cello note of the last song fades away, you're left with a feeling you rarely get from listening to CDs these days. An artist has labored long and hard to make something to give us meaning to our days. It's there in what the songs say, and it's there in how the musicians say it.

"So much of this record is just about surviving ... about making it through with some portion of your heart intact. We've all got scars. We've all got scar tissue on our hearts," Ainslie said.

Thunder's Mouth is what that sounds like.

For more information or to order a copy, visit http://cattailmusic.com.

-Jon Potter, The Brattleboro Reformer