Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Some tramps are born to run. Luke Winslow-King was born to roam.
That’s what he tells us in the song of that title included on Blue Mesa, his sixth album overall and fourth since 2013 for the rootsy Bloodshot imprint. “I can’t take nobody else/ I’m going alone/ I was born to roam,” he sings, and if the set’s recording locations of Lari, Italy, Lansing, Michigan, New York and New Orleans are any indication, this one-time Big Easy resident is serious about his wanderlust.
Winslow-King hasn’t quite shaken off the vestiges of the broken relationship that dominated the songs on 2016’s I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always though. Tracks such as “Thought I Heard You” (“Thought I heard you say goodbye/ thought I heard you maybe tell some lie”), the title track (“Broken hearts, wish and wonder, wonder why/ We had to say goodbye”) and “Better For Knowing You” (“If I could change time/ I would fix things together so you were mine”) show that one album wasn’t enough to close the book on this unsettling event.
He’s surely got the blues. So the guitar-based blues rocking that underpins most tracks on this 40-minute set, along with his emotional, somewhat boyish vocals, are a logical vehicle to express his romantic discontent. He shifts from the modified waltz “Break Down The Walls” to the dramatic soulful groove of the opening “You Got Mine” and the sizzling John Lee Hooker-meets-ZZ Top boogie of both “Thought I Heard You” and “Leghorn Women,” with the ease and authority of a guy who has been mixing blues with folk, rock, and New Orleans-based music for most of his recording career. He goes slow-pickin’ country on the bouncy “Farewell Blues,” complete with fiddle and pedal steel as he warns his lover that his mother told him, “Don’t fall in love with a highway man.” On the same song, he’s “going out drifting like a ship out on the sea,” and while that sounds cliché, his honest, unpretentious delivery is undeniable. The upbeat, frisky “Chicken Dinner,” with its playful cha-cha beat and horns, keeps the mood light.
The singer/songwriter/guitarist’s memorable melodies and taut backing musicians keep the music energized, electric and immediate. He looks forward with hope for brighter days ahead on the smiling, bouncing beat of “After The Rain,” where he says “After the rain it will all be clear … everything will be fine after the rain.”
On Blue Mesa, Luke Winslow-King reflects on his strengths, weaknesses and need to keep moving with the lyrical and musical integrity of a heartbroken journeyman who understands, believes in and respects the road ahead and behind.