Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train by Guy Davis & Fabrizio Poggi
From the opening harp strains I knew this was going to be something special. Sitting here in the UK we tend to look west or stay at home for our blues, Italy doesn’t spring to mind. Well, here’s something very different; an American and an Italian creating their own highly sensitive interpretation of some of the best loved blues songs. In Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train Guy Davis and Fabrizio Poggi at the same time pay tribute to the great bluesmen and pass the mantle of this venerated music to a new generation. That’s two for one, which they do again in their ability to educate and entertain.
Guy Davis and Fabrizio Poggi have played together for years and it shows on this latest collaboration recorded live in Italy. Both have unblemished pedigrees in blues music, too long to detail here. Suffice it to say they are perfectly qualified for this task. The sound is warm and pure; as with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, to whom Davis describes this album as a love letter, it is guitar, harmonica and vocals. Apart from a bit of modest drumming and foot stomping, there's little more but then nothing else is required. Davis describes Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee as “two musicians whose work will not be surpassed, let alone improved”, and he and Poggi don’t seek to do either. But they do recreate the raw excitement of the originators of all these songs.
The record opens with the title song written by Davis and Poggi. The rest is a selection of songs that had become staples of the Sonny & Brownie repertoire. Not all were their compositions, some came from contemporaries and others go far back into the American folk canon. And that’s why, unlike most new releases, picking favourites is neither possible nor really the point. This is a collection of enduring blues songs to be listened to as a package.
That’s not to say there aren’t features worth highlighting; it’s just these tend to apply across the record. The authenticity is the first thing that strikes you. Davis and Poggi could be from the same era, singing with such heartfelt emotion on classics like the old folk song, ‘Shortnin’ Bread’ and ‘Baby Please Don’t Go Back to New Orleans’. It could be these two in the penitentiary singing as the lights of the ‘Midnight Special’ flash across their cell walls.
Moving to the playing, the stripped back acoustic approach allows each to demonstrate his skills. Poggi’s harmonica is stunning throughout the album; ‘Take This Hammer’, has him accompanying Davis’s guitar, then adding a solo interspersing both with what sound like field hollers on harp. Many of these songs have been electrified by many artists and in many cases superbly, but this record is a reminder of just how powerful they are in their original acoustic form.
‘Sonny & Brownies Last Train’ is a fitting tribute to two of the greatest bluesmen ever by two dedicated masters of the genre today. We owe them a debt of gratitude to keeping the flame alight and passing it on.
Preview Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train