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Based in Blues
Victor Nesrallah | Free Flying Music
By John Kelman
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While Ottawa, Canada may not seem the most fertile place for a blues community, the city has produced its share of fine players, including Tony D and Sue Foley. Its annual blues festival is considered, next to Chicago's, to be North America’s premier blues event, with tens of thousands of fans crowding to see a wide range of artists. And with clubs like The Rainbow, it’s possible to catch local acts any day of the week.

Victor Nesrallah has always had his fingers in a lot of pies, as evidenced by the rock-inflected Always Dreaming (Free Flying Music, 1994) and Blood From the Stone (Free Flying Music, 1999)—a well-received world music album blending his Lebanese roots with a personal style gained through 25 years of experience as a singer/songwriter. But he’s always been informed by the blues—sometimes directly, elsewhere in more subtle ways.

So it was perhaps inevitable that Nesrallah would one day pay homage to the blues artists who have influenced him since his earliest days, including Taj Mahal, Willie Dixon, and Luther Allison. Based in Blues is an all-acoustic affair, recorded in his home studio in downtown Ottawa with a minimum of fuss. Throughout these eleven self- penned songs, Nesrallah demonstrates that the blues roots run deep, despite the variety displayed throughout. Mixing the topical with more traditional themes like “love’s done me wrong,” Nesrallah’s album has a fresh, rootsy vibe that makes for an engaging listen.

“The Wannabe Club” opens up with a Bo Diddley rock beat carried by one guitar, over which Nesrallah layers two dobro tracks. He’s always possessed an attractive tenor, with a relaxed delivery and a strong range; here he adds the slightest hint of rasp to lend additional authenticity. “Fear is Everywhere” is a more straightforward blues which addresses the state of fear that’s become endemic in the public’s consciousness.

With only a couple of acoustic guitars and hand percussion, “The Shape I’m In” rocks along insistently. The majority of the album explores a variety of drop-D tunings, giving Nesrallah’s basic rhythm track depth and fullness. He’s no virtuoso, but he has an instinctive ability to choose the right notes at the right time, making his slide work on dobro tasteful and understated. Eschewing overdubbing of any kind, “Jump In” is the most reverential blues piece on the disc—one acoustic guitar, one voice—and in its stark simplicity, the most effective track.

Keith Snider—another local musician who shares a weekly duo gig with Nesrallah playing fiddle, mandolin, and banjo—is heard on the haunting minor blues “You Made a Fool Outta Me.” Like Nesrallah, his accompaniment—in this case on banjo—is more about creating a feeling than suggesting any kind of formidable ability, although he’s a fine player.

While Nesrallah’s laid-back style adapts easily to everything from folk to world music and more, Based in Blues may be the most direct and honest record he’s released to date. For fans of rootsy acoustic blues, Based in Blues is just what the doctor ordered.

Visit Victor Nesrallah on the web.

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When not writing feverishly for AAJ, John Kelman contributes to the Canadian magazines Muzik Etc. and The Jazz Report. More about John...

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Track Listing: The Wannabe Club; Fear is Everywhere; The Shape I'm In; Hard Time Blues; Trouble on My Mind; Jump In; You Made a Fool Outta Me; Think for Yourself; The Resurrection; Memories of a Boy; Forgive and Forget.

Personnel: Victor Nesrallah: guitars, vocals, percussion; Keith Snider: banjo (7).

Style: Blues

Review Published: November 26, 2005

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