Damon Fowler’s Florida swamp grooves intoxicate

Damon Fowler promises the moon, and delivers. When he plays his guitar, a steamy, pliable tone that just reeks of the Florida swamps, fills the air. He absolutely owns that tone throughout “Alafia Moon,” folding it into a potent set of original, rocking and rolling, Southern-soaked blues songs.

This is Fowler’s eighth studio album, including his collaboration with Victor Wainwright and JP Soars as Southern Hospitality. For 20-some years, Fowler’s been honing his style, playing gigs sharing the stage with the likes of Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and Little Feat, not to mention as a member of the solo bands of original Allman Brothers members Butch Trucks and Dickey Betts. All that experience culminates in his most defining album to date.

Georgia’s renowned blues-rocker Tinsley Ellis agrees, telling me “This is the best roots music album I’ve heard so far this year,” and that “Damon is from a long line of great Florida guitarists such as Duane Allman, Dickey Betts and Derek Trucks.” High praise indeed. But right on target. As soon as Fowler’s distinctive, fuzzy notes and T.C. Carr’s lonesome nighttime harp begin warming up the cautionary yarn “Leave it Alone,” it becomes readily apparent that “Alafia Moon” will be one heck of a good and sweaty ride.

Fowler sings his songs in a voice full of warm and buttery nuances, and with hearty confidence. His exceptional band, which also includes former Dickey Betts Band keyboards wiz Mike Kach, conjures one intoxicating groove after another. Carr’s swooping and swirling harp work, which sounds like James Cotton caught in a howling windstorm, blows through several of the songs. He’s quite something, and featured accordingly.  

But this is Fowler’s show, and he wastes no time cutting into it, displaying every facet of his skill on guitar with equal measures of magnetism and wicked abandon. His notes are incisive, and the contours of his phrasing elaborate without any unnecessary fanfare. Fowler illustrates his lifelong obsession in “The Guitar,” playing it acoustically in a mountain country blues style. In the rough and tumble “Taxman,” he goes deep down, Chicago style. Both songs, however, retain an overall Southern charm.

In addition, Damon Fowler can really write a song. Artful in his use of simile and ironic twists, he expresses himself exceptionally, and captivates his audience. In the ultra-funky and ultra-catchy “Make the Best of Your Time,” he makes his points about the pandemic with the refrain “Keep on givin’, gotta earn a livin’, try to make the best of your time,” and then inserts a plethora of lines such as “When all the work dries up like paint…” And, he never indulges distastefully, one way or the other. When Fowler sings the title to the smooth “Alafia Moon,” with Betty Fox’s backing voice accentuating his words, one can practically see the moon, the scene is set so beautifully. In the jaunty “Some Things Change,” he sings “When my heart was dirt on the floor, you mopped it,” and then proceeds to rip into his guitar, all of it solidifying Mr. Ellis’s assertions.   

-Tom Clarke  

  • Damon Fowler
  • ‘Alafia Moon’
  • Label: Landslide Records
  • Release: March 26, 2021

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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