You must step out of your comfort zone to learn and achieve great new things. Oh yeah? Try telling that to Alastair Greene.
The blues-rocker is set to release “The New World Blues,” which was recorded at Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Records studio in Houma, Louisiana. The superb guitar-driven album is inventive and even prescient. And the weeklong sessions it took to make it were extraordinarily comfortable.
Greene, a Southern Californian, arrived in Houma on his birthday and was presented a cake by Benoit and record label partner Rueben Williams. Two nights later, there was a crawfish boil, the quintessential Louisiana outdoor dinner party.
“I had an amazing welcoming experience and the opportunity to check out the culture,” Greene said. “There’s a guest bedroom attached to the studio. I went to the store, bought some groceries, put some in the refrigerator and made a record.”
Greene’s a guitar virtuoso who transitioned from rock star to bluesman, and a bit swampy one at that now after his tenure at Benoit’s Bayou recording academy.
Greene toured the planet for several years with the Alan Parsons Project before electing to follow his blues muse in 2017. “The New World Blues” is his sixth solo album.
Greene’s live band is a classic blues trio, which was the format for the album with Benoit on drums and Corey Duplechin on bass. Benoit offered Greene the chance to make the record after seeing him play several times at the annual Las Vegas Big Blues Bender. Greene has been part of Jimmy Carpenter’s Bender Brass, which backs a wide range of artists, requiring a versatile guitarist.
“Tabs says, ‘I’ve got a record label and I dig your music. Would you like to come down and make a record?’ It was that easy,” Greene said. “I thought it would work out. I came in with lot of groove-based songs, a lot of stuff I knew those guys were just going to kill because of where they come from in the world and what their background is. I kind of designed this record to be learned on the spot and then played.”
The first song recorded also opens the album, “Living Today.” It includes the lyrics: “The whole world’s gone crazy; The whole world’s gone mad; Everybody feels uneasy, everyone’s feeling sad.”
“I don’t have a crystal Ball and I don’t claim to be a prophet, but that song has just come true in spades,” Greene said.
The host invited Greene to play his beat-up, vintage Telecaster. String-bending notes were not a realistic option.
“Tab’s got a different DNA than I do. His hands are vice grips,” Greene said. “The guitar had really heavy strings, but the action was perfect for playing slide.”
The songs “Bayou Mile” and the title track “The New World Blues” feature the slide guitar.
Greene opens “Bayou Mile” singing about “one of those bummer travel days you get” being stuck in airport, waiting to fly to New Orleans. He had the opening verse, a chorus and some inspiration from a long walk around rural Houma.
“Tab said, ‘Let’s work on lyrics. Then he started coming up with these images — I couldn’t write them down fast enough.”
“So lay me down in the sugar cane; Wash over me like summer rain.”
“It was so cool to have someone from that region come up with some of these images that I would never come up with because I don’t live there,” Greene said.
Some of the songs – such as “Lies and Fears” — include three-part harmonies, which is not heard on Greene’s previous albums. Duplechin is a big man but he sings with a high tenor.
“I went in some directions I haven’t gone before in my career,” Greene said. “It is raw. You are hearing my guitar pretty unadulterated. There’s some reverb on one of the guitars and I had a little clean boost which boosted the signal a little bit and I put a little delay on one song and I used a wah-wah pedal on another song. But otherwise, it’s probably the most raw, stripped-down guitar sound that I’ve used.”
“Another thing that was different was learning the songs on the spot. We’d go over a song, mess around with it for a minute and then we’d record it. We never did more than two takes on any of those songs. It was a pretty unique process for me.”
The song “No Longer Amused” is the result of a suggestion from Greene’s mentor, the great Los Angles blueswoman Debbie Davies: Write a one-chord song. That was something done by blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
“Knowing Debbie has been just the hugest blessing in my life,” Greene said. “Let’s make this interesting as we can without moving a chord. That was my challenge. The chords are kind of implied, but we stay on that B for the entire song. There’s lot of subtleties. Corey snuck in some really cool stuff. Tab accented little things on drums I would have never thought of.”
Every album Greene has made includes at least one song in drop D tuning. That goes back to Greene’s heavy metal days and his appreciation for bands such as King’s X and Soundgarden. “When You Don’t Know What To Do” opens with a catchy guitar hook.
“That’s one where I really wanted those guys to do what they do,” Greene said “I said, ‘I’ve got this riff and I want you guys to do your Cajun magic.’ The song ends on the 4 chord, which is a very Zydeco thing to do, unbeknownst to me. Another learning experience.”
Song sequencing is an art that Greene takes very seriously and he did something highly unusual by placing the title track “New World Blues” last. It is the hardest rocking tune on the album.
“The ending of that song is just this crazy guitar feedback and noise,” Greene said. “What song could follow that? It’s almost like an encore song.”
Since we are living in a pandemic and the world’s gone crazy, Greene won’t get to support the new album with a live shows for the foreseeable future. He was just two days away from starting a monthlong Whiskey Bayou revue tour last March when the shutdown began.
However, the Alastair Greene Band will present a pre-release performance online on Saturday, Oct. 17. It was recorded earlier this week. Greene will interact with viewers throughout the show. Here’s the link: https://tinyurl.com/AGticketsBandProd
‘The New World Blues’
Label: Whiskey Bayou Records
Release: Oct. 23, 2020
Favorite tracks: ‘New World Blues,” “Living Today”