I can see how Moses felt mad when he came down from Mount Sinai, after going up for a few weeks to pick up the Ten Commandments, and saw everyone was now worshiping a golden calf. If you take something seriously, like blues or religion (and for many of us, they're intertwined), you get upset when people mess with it. The beauty of the blues is that as it changes it can become stronger, in a way that's tougher for other aspects of our lives, like religion. Muddy Gurdy's Homecoming takes blues in a different direction, but it isn't sacrilege, so much as it's a brilliantly personal take on a beloved art form.
Muddy Gurdy is a French blues band with fascinating instrumentation. Guitarist/singer Tia Gouttebel is straight-forwardly blues, with a soulful voice that doesn't try to sound American, her French accent on full display. Gilles Chabenat plays hurdy-gurdy, a type of mechanical violin. And drummer Marco Glomeau lays down grooves that rarely feel like blues rhythms, punching different beats to make the music swing in an exciting but atypical way. But while the band wanders far from the familiar trappings of the blues, their sound is pure, capturing the sadness, drama, and depth of the style. It's not American blues, but rather the personal blues of three talented musicians.
Their version of J.B. Lenoir's "Down in Mississippi" launches with electric bagpipes, courtesy of guest Louis Jacques. A Middle Eastern groove kicks in, the downbeat tough to locate. Gouttebel sings, elongating the syllables so the English sounds almost French. Glomeau sings behind her, giving the song a creepy quality, like a ghost is following her through the song. Going back to listen to the original, there's a stronger thread between the two versions than one might have remembered, but it's still a distinctive perspective that brings the song someplace else.
They also have an interesting take on "You Gotta Move," the traditional spiritual made famous by the Rolling Stones. Gouttebel starts the song, only her stark voice and slide guitar, the tune feeling like other kinds of blues numbers. But Glomeau's drums come in with a spacey beat that gives the track a bounce, like it's working without gravity. Chabenat's hurdy-gurdy jams over it all, and it sounds like three different bands playing over each other, yet the track doesn't just work, it's brilliant, less reminiscent of a blues band, but more like the Velvet Underground at their focused best.
"Black Madonna" is a gospel number, Gomeau using a typical gospel groove, but with Chabenat's hurdy-gurdy serving the place of a pedal steel, making the track feel like a Sacred Steel number from perhaps 100 years in the future or 1,000 years in the past. Harmonica hiccups and Gouttebel's vocals root the song in the blues, all of this making the tune feel like both the most and least complicated song on the album.
Homecoming is full of beautiful moments like this, on every track. The songs are effective blues numbers because of the candor of the performances. No one is trying to sound like anyone else. The three artists have all listened to a lot of blues over the years, and folded it into themselves. This isn't blues as structure, but rather their expression of what the blues means to them. What's so wonderful about the album is that blues lovers will recognize Muddy Gurdy's faith and devotion immediately, and only smash tablets out of sheer joy.