Michael Powers – Onyx Root

Onyx Root

Even for the most hardcore blues fan, things can get a bit “samey” after a point, with so many artists dipping into the same 12-bar well. So as nice as it is to have some of the elder statesmen still vital and kicking, it’s even more exciting when a new face comes along and injects some life into the party. Singer/guitarist Michael Powers achieves that and then some.

One key is that Powers approaches the music in a far-from-purist way, with an eclectic repertoire, and doesn’t treat the blues as something “old.” So even though we’ve heard a million versions of John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen,” when Powers opens with his autobiographical “Successful Son,” spoken over the same groove, you ask, “ Then what did your mama say?”

Although this is Powers’ debut solo effort, the 52-year-old’s career has spanned 40 years. Which illuminates how he can shift from his take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talkin'” to the Sir Douglas Quintet’s ’60s hit, “She’s About A Mover,” to a moving gospel arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire” to the Count Five’s garage-rocker “Psychotic Reaction,” complete with feedback rave-up – all with ease, somehow making everything cohabitate in a way that makes perfect sense.

Powers grabs acoustic, electric, and slide (and a variety of cool tones) according to what fits his version of the material best. (So the Otis Rush classic “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” for instance, is turned into an acoustic country blues.) The biggest left turn is Michael’s flamenco-esque steel-string instrumental “Night In Madrid.” What else is in his bag of tricks is anybody’s guess. As he sings in his beautiful ballad “Graffiti,” for blues fans, this is “like sweet meat to a hungry dog.”

This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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