Thunder's Mouth, CD by Scott Ainslie

"Robert Johnson has always been a hip reference when guitarists are asked about influences, often, it's nothing more than lip-service. With Thunder's Mouth, Ainslie has continued a career that one can imagine Johnson being proud of. -Ray Hogan

The Stamford Advocate
Stamford, CT
CD review: "Thunder's Mouth," Scott Ainslie
Article Launched: 07/24/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

"Thunder's Mouth," Scott Ainslie (Cattail Music)

Singer-guitarist Scott Ainslie is a leading scholar of the Delta blues style that Robert Johnson helped pioneer. He's also a collector of great songs and has deep respect for American roots music. All this makes for a potent performance on "Thunder's Mouth."

Ainslie's understanding of and passion for the blues is evident from every string he plucks and every note that passes his lips. The opening cut, J.B. Lenoir's "Down in Mississippi," comes off like a statement of purpose, with deft acoustic slide work and a husky vocal workout.

"Thunder's Mouth" is a masterful mix of covers and four of his own songs. There are blues standbys in Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom" and Son House's "Grinnin' In Your Face," the latter of which Ainslie bravely takes on a cappella, complete with random thumps and claps. A cover of Tom Waits' "Little Trip to Heaven" makes the argument that America's favorite deranged troubadour is also one of its finest songwriters. (Of course, some have long believed that anyway.) He also makes magic with "Oil in My Vessel," a song learned from an old-time fiddle player.

The most poignant song on the disc "It's Gonna Rain," a lovelorn tale taking in place in New Orleans that Ainslie coincidentally wrote prior to Katrina. Its yearning lyrics and crystalline acoustic guitar work sound like they were written in reaction to the hurricane aftermath.

"Half-lit 'neathe the cypress trees/Where the cottonwoods whisper/in the evening breeze/I know you've gone/I know we've changed" might be written about a woman, but also reflects a great city forever altered. This song is so beautiful that a modern country star could take it high on the charts.

For someone as versed in the traditional blues as Ainslie, his own songwriting takes on almost a contemporary folk feel at times. Still, when he sings with foreboding on "If Anybody Asks About Me," it becomes obvious this man was born to play the blues.

Robert Johnson has always been a hip reference when guitarists are asked about influences. Often, it's nothing more than lip-service. With "Thunder's Mouth," Ainslie has continued a career that one can imagine Johnson being proud of.

- Ray Hogan