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Album Review : Austin Walkin’ Cane – Murder of a Blues Singer 

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Review by Taf Rock for MPM

Austin Walkin’ Cane – a name many will not have heard before. A brief introduction for those like myself previously unacquainted with the 53 year-old Cleveland, Ohio native is in order.

Austin Charanghat plays authentic traditional blues in both electric and acoustic forms, performing worldwide and recording under the name of Austin Walkin’ Cane. Playing the blues since 1984 the name came about not through the need to have a made up blues name to fit in with the age-old tradition of manufactured names but through a genuine occurrence.

Born with a malformation Austin walked with a cane for a decade. It was during this period a homeless man saw him performing on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street and cried out “Hey Walkin’ Cane got some spare change for a brother?”.

Austin took this opportunity and adopted the the moniker as his nickname. In 1996 the year he released his debut album ‘Help Yourself’ Austin gave in to the inevitable and had his left leg amputated below the knee when he was just 26, returning to performances one year afterwards a stronger man eventually releasing his sophomore album ‘Radio Cafe’ in 2001. Dispensing with the physical cane Austin continues to perform under the likeable moniker to this day.

And so we turn our attention to this album. First released in 2008 the album was Austin’s fourth release only available originally from Austin himself. Deserving of a wider audience the album was released internationally on October 20th via Hoboville Records. The background to the album itself is very interesting.

The title in reference to the alleged circumstances surrounding the loss of one of the original blues legends Robert Johnson, stepfather of Robert Jr. Lockwood. It was an after dinner conversation with Lockwood that inspired the creation of this album. Indeed Lockwood himself was due to appear alongside Austin on this album but sadly Lockwood passed away in 2006 at the age of 91. Two recording sessions resulted in the creation of this album. One session full electric with Mike Barrick on bass, Michael Bay on guitar and Jim Wall on drums, the other acoustic and both are equally represented on this ten track 43 minute long release.

We start with a Delta style blues. HIGH RENT LEMON GIRL, AREN’T YA. With several metaphorical taps of his cane, Austin ‘raises his hand to the heavens’ and swears to be bound by his words. He picks up ‘this ole guitar’ and instructs us of his wishes in this song.  Worried ‘he may die tomorrow’ he tells us to pass his ashes on to the ‘high rent lemon girl’ as ‘she will spread them around the world’.

MURDER OF A BLUES SINGER – ‘Pale moon lies low, in the Greenwood sky’ as Austin tells us a popular version of how the original blues legend Robert Johnson is purported to have met his fate (many versions of events surrounding Robert’s death exist). After selling his soul at the crossroads Robert was ‘sent running like a slave in the night’ before eventually falling for a ‘gin soaked girl with the moonlight in her eyes’. The beautiful electric blues guitar of Austin fits the tale perfectly as the ‘jealous hand of a jealous man pours whiskey in a poisoned glass’.

Sadly not even Sonny Boy Williamson could ‘save me from damnation’ and Robert Johnson was ‘stolen by corn whisky’ at far too young an age in ‘the delta town’. ‘Only the devil knew’ the true circumstances surrounding his death.

DEVIL’S BACKBONE – Austin calls to the band – ‘Hey fellas … we got any gas … I’ll drive’ and we take a trip on the Natchez Trace down to The Devil’s Backbone. A fittingly driving bass from Mike Barrick as we don our ‘pork pie hat’ and set off on our way. Michael Bay provides an extensive lead break on this upbeat track. Touches of Howlin’ Wolf from Austin as he screams repetitively in delight as we near our destination. 

‘Love is sinking like a shipwreck … we gotta STEP IT UP & GO’ – Delightful harmonica provided by Colin Dussault is a feature of this track as we continue with the upbeat mood of this album. A track that will get you up out of your seat moving and grooving even before the rock n roll style lead break hits you. 

Austin treats us to an acoustic version of Robert Johnson’s 1936 track RAMBLIN’ ON MY MIND – one of the mere 29 songs he composed during his brief life. A track famous for featuring the first ever solo vocal performance by Eric Clapton on John Mayall’s 1966 cover. This version once again features Colin Dussault on harmonica treating us to a lengthy solo midway through our blues ramble – a glorious version in the classic delta style of the original. 

We ‘leave our heart in a dead mule’s room’ and ‘throw a rope around the GEORGIA MOON’. ‘Tell ole trouble man I’m looking for him’ only stopping to grab a bunch of ‘ripe bananas and a bottle to go’ we ‘comb our head with a catfish back’ and drive on, rocking things back up on this track in order to ‘squeeze a living out of wire ‘n’ wood’.

We ‘spit out blues’ with a further dose of exceptional harmonica from Colin initially in a call and answer style in response to the guitar and vocal of Austin himself before he lets loose with a lengthy holler on the gob iron.

‘This GRAVEYARD TOWN knows nothing but poison rain’ – we settle back into an acoustic style with Austin excelling on slide guitar. ‘Blood flowing down the drain’ we ‘want away from this world of pain’. 

HOLD ON THE NIGHT – Mike Barrick’s bass to the fore as he and drummer Jim Wall provide a fast paced rhythm from the start of this track. Colin is back on harmonica as Austin with his ‘ole guitar slung across his back’ leads the whole band in an upbeat dose of rock n roll. ‘Hold on tight… hold on for your life’ – We are on the blues train ‘riding the rails … back to you’.  An infectious number. The train gathers pace as it travels towards its destination Austin demonstrating exceptional skill as he hoots n hollers before letting rip on the slide guitar.

LATE GREAT SINGER – Written by life-long friend Cleveland’s Chris Allen (co-writer of several songs on this album) when he was just 21 and a staple from his band Rosavelt (the song first appeared on their debut 1997 album Carp & Bones) Austin produces a sterling version of this ballad as he laments ‘never gonna fill Carnegie Hall’. He’s ‘never gonna be the star that you picture’ as his acoustic guitar and soulful vocal accompanies Colin’s exceptional harmonica.

SEE THAT MY GRAVE IS KEPT CLEAN – Austin joins a plethora of artists (Bob Dylan and B.B. King two of the more notable) in ‘asking a favour’ as he covers this Blind Lemon Jefferson number first recorded in 1927. As the ‘church bells toll’ Austin and his gently strummed guitar are joined by one of Cleveland’s finest gospel choirs – The Prayer Warriors – in this beautifully atmospheric rendition of a blues classic. As we build to the dramatic climax our ‘heart stops beating and our hands turn cold’. A fitting finale to this wonderful album.

Sometimes albums do not get the recognition they so richly deserve. A dyed in the wool blues aficionado myself I was not aware either of this artist or album before it was presented to me. If you love authentic blues this heady mixture of electric and acoustic music played by highly accomplished musicians well versed in their chosen art is more than worthy of your attention. 

Austin Walkin’ Cane – a name many will not have heard before.  Following this introduction I shall be checking out further releases from Austin’s nine album catalogue starting with his latest album entitled ‘Muscle Shoals’. If you like your blues authentic, fiery and full of spirit I suggest you do the same. 

http://www.walkincane.com/ 

https://www.facebook.com/austin.charanghat

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