Selwyn Birchwood’s third album for Chicago-based Alligator Records represents new creative frontiers for the 36-year-old Florida native. The robust use of keyboards and baritone sax makes it his most sonically expansive effort to date, and that sound isn’t just expansive – it’s thick.
The instrumental wall, fortunately, doesn’t detract from Birchwood’s omnipresent guitar work and baritone vocals on an album, where the six-string and horns peacefully co-exist. Birchwood’s blistering single-note runs punctuate the opening “I’d Climb Mountains,” and he gets lap-steel dirty on the unapologetic roadhouse rocker “I Got Drunk, Laid and Stoned.” The title track, meanwhile, emits a reggae vibe, again finding guitars and horns intertwined.
The prevailing sense of musical community that underpins Living In a Burning House by no means implies restraint. The artist unleashes furious volleys of notes on the driving “You Can’t Steal My Shine,” and “Revelation” features some of the most intensity-laden playing on the entire album. Another highlight is “Freaks Come Out at Night,” which, if not a John Lee Hooker tribute, contains enough boogie to make him smile.
Birchwood, clearly a bluesman on the rise, has already traveled a long artistic journey – and his prime is likely still up the road.
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.