Blue Highways (2020)

Black Lightening, at the beginning, was the baby of two high-energy creators: singer and guitarist Mark Jackson (Medicine Hat) and Richard East, very talented producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. A project that continued to live since 2010 alternating with Medicine Hat, according to the schedules and the health of each, since the publication of the duo's first and remarkable EP ("Burning Faith") in 2011, rather oriented enough " heavy ”, like the high voltage energy of its two members.

Unfortunately, the Richard East human dynamo is very quickly, too quickly, affected by the disease, as we already mentioned in the chronicle of the EP, and after years of struggle, its bubbling force left this world in the fall of 2018, under 52, leaving a huge void. Determined to continue his friend's work, Mark Jackson recruited a group of young musicians from Ipswich to complete the songs and recordings and release them in concert to honor the music they worked on. Left alone at the head of the project, Mark gives us here the studio version of the projects outlined with Richard and worked over time, then reworked by the new team. It took a whole group to compensate for the immense void left at all levels by Father East! If the EP was based on rather "heavy" influences, apart from the fantastic final ballad, this CD explores other shores, as its title indicates: the blue freeways passed somewhere in the vicinity of Mississippi and the disc explores a other mixture of waters. It starts with a pretty damn cross between classic blues-rock and southern rock with a zest of soul which extols the benefits of blues. With a clean, almost airy solo, this "Ridin 'With The Blues" opens the debate in a very pleasant way. An excellent title that should hit on stage. It is followed by "Escape to Mexico", a fearsome, sticky blues like ZZ Top, magnified by the voice of Mark Jackson, who has lost none of its intensity. The Telecaster groans over the destiny of the poor fisherman, the cellphones light up in the room, and we sympathize with Mark about the misfortune of these losers wanting to flee their fate... After a gentle countrysing intro, "God In Heaven", the next track is gradually oriented towards a much more intense oratorical form which gradually rises before "She Keeps Runnin 'Away" brings us back to a more classic, hopping blues-rock , almost perky. A catchy and damn piece that is stamping. We continue with the cover of the famous “Statesboro Blues” by Blind Willie Mc Tell, greatly popularized in its time by the ABB: a classic to which the voice of Mark Jackson gives a very special personality as well as a tribute to Butch Trucks and Greg Allman. Owen Rees takes the opportunity to shine while remaining efficient, which is not always easy. It rolls, baby! We get really angry with "No Whiskey", a painting of intense frustration that reminds us of the most intoxicating boogies of Foghat... without the slide, but which flies away thanks to the repetition of a small chromatic rise followed by guitar solo passing from one tone to another before everything very skilfully takes back place in the greatest tradition. Good game ! More surprisingly, the team then escapes in a catchy and original instrumental ("Things That Stings") which highlights an alert guitar. Nice!

A total change of atmosphere with "All These Years", one of those magnificent lyric ballads of which Mark Jackson seems to hold the secret. With the bright solo presence of Steve Loveday, this is the title closest to Medicine Hat, and the superb result takes us straight into the irresistible melodic universe of the song. A real little jewel with sumptuous guitar parts which also ends solo with an acceleration of tempo well known by southern bands before the final fallout! An undeniable success that cannot hide the syncopated efficiency of the snarling "Black Lightning Woman". A piece that fits in this temper, it must blow up on stage! Guitarists have fun while the rhythm beats but remains relatively airy, thanks to the inspired playing of Cam Jessop which has the good taste of leaving a lot of space. Nice!
To finish, the group offers us "Lonely Road" a second ballad, just as beautiful as "All These Years", but torn, more poignant than his alter-ego, in which Mark Jackson proclaims his solitude, without finding any meaning in it. Yes, my brother, the road will be less easy now without Richard's brotherly energy. But this album pays him magnificent homage: from up there, it should be appreciated that one could listen to it, being that it is moreover very well produced by Steve Loveday, the producer friend and former guitarist of Medicine Hat, task which was one of Robert's specialties for the EP. The overall success of the record does not manage to conceal a crucial question: what will be the future of the group now that one of its two kingpins has left us and the other is continuing his career in a Medicine Hat well launched in the small world of southern rock? While waiting for the answer, throw yourself on this album: even after several listenings, it still has not delivered all its secrets, we can rediscover hidden beauties, interesting details, which proves the intelligence of its design, and above all, the intense pleasure of the ears does not dull over listening. So why give it up? Once you get into it, it's hard to get out of it, to part with it, a real drug! Really, he must be happy, Richard, if the notes of this album reach his soul.

Y. Philippot-Degand


Close Window