Thunder's Mouth, CD by Scott Ainslie

"Thunder’s Mouth, Scott’s fifth album, is a magnificent collection (that) combines classic blues and gospel...four originals, note-perfect African Rhythms, and a well-chosen Tom Waits cover...The cornerstones of this album are Scott’s original songs. Of these, “It’s Gonna Rain” is the show-stopper. 

 

Bluesman, historian, scholar, and guitar virtuoso and instructor Scott Ainslie is a one-man contradiction of the public stereotype of the folk singer-songwriter. His inspiration is not his own navel, but rather is a breathtaking palette of cultures and history. He also does not strum triad chords. Instead, he is the master of multiple genres and tunings, focusing not only on the blues but also on the blues' African origins.

Thunder's Mouth, Scott's fifth album, is a magnificent collection of all of those influences. It combines classic blues and gospel (including a song from Robert Johnson, whose biography Scott wrote in 1992, and whose guitar technique Scott teaches in a 2005 Hal Leonard instructional video), four originals, note-perfect African rhythms, and a well-chosen Tom Waits cover. Scott's 1931 National resonator guitar playing is supported by a top-notch group of musicians, including Eugene Friesen on cello, Sam Broussard on guitar, and T-Bone Wolk on every instrument that was not nailed down. The songs are also accompanied by lush liner notes and on-line commentary, explaining their origins and historical references.

Scott does not slavishly recreate the Piedmont and Delta blues on this album. He strips "Son" House's "Grinnin' in Your Face" down to an a capella romp, punctuated only by tapped percussion. The plaintive Vera Hall song, "Another Man Done Gone," is played in C-minor turning, with well-placed riffs from a fuzzy electric lead guitar … certainly not the way John Lomax preserved it in 1939. The Robert Johnson song "Dust My Broom" is the subject of lengthy notes by Scott, exploring whether the song's unexplained reference to Ethiopia might have been inspired by news accounts of Haile Selassi's being driven out of his country in 1935.

The cornerstones of this album, however, are Scott's original songs. Of these, "It's Going to Rain" is the show-stopper: a haunted misty lament for New Orleans, filled with images of broken Mardi Gras beads and discarded beer bottles, that was written as a lost-love song but stands up completely as a paean to the post-hurricane city. "If Anybody Asks You About Me" is performed on a fretless banjo played in the style of a West African kora. "I Should Get Over This" reveals Scott's mastery of joyful African guitar rhythms, which contrast intriguingly with the song's heartbreaking lyrics.

Thunder's Mouth is a rewarding and thought-inspiring album in which the artist shows his deep love of traditional blues music and its roots by reinterpreting it, digging into its history, and letting it infuse his own compositions.

– SS (Sing Out! Vol.52#3 Autumn 2008)