Blind Pig Records (BPCD 5130)
Roy Rogers has always been one for stretching his music out in new ways. "Split Decision was more about the songwriting and I aimed to create a much more edgy sound and cross-genre style," says Rogers. "I really wanted to mix it up a bit with a lot of different guitar tones - and still have some solid roots oriented grooves. My influences are from all over the map, and I love combining different elements on a recording, but ultimately it's about ‘the feel’ of a total record."
The album was recorded with the Delta Rhythm Kings, who are Steve Ehrmann bass and Billy Lee Lewis drums. There are special guests including Phil Aaberg keyboards and Rogers’ son Sam on percussion. Throughout, Aaberg’s piano is faint and ghostly in the mix. A fusion of north Mississippi hill blues, rock, and grunge abound on Calm Before The Storm. These combined sounds are both velvety and callous, but the synthesis of the genres doesn’t stick. Patron Saint of Pain is the bluesiest song on the disc due to the song’s traditional arrangement and the way the slide is performed on it. Elements of old school Chicago and Texas blues can be heard as can the influence of Elmore James on Rogers’ slide playing. The damage from Hurricane Katrina is attempted to be controlled on Bitter Rain where (“the devil took delight.”) Several songs are radio-friendly. There is the pop rock boogie of Little Queen Bee and the ultra catchy rhythm of River of Tears. Most songs deal with the aspects of relationships such as searching for love in the midst of deceit. Among them, there are two tender love songs. Someone Like You is about that (“one true love”) and I Would Undo Anything is about making a mistake and losing true love.
The three instrumentals are the strongest songs. Your Sweet Embrace stirs up emotions by combining east Indian music with flamenco music. It features world music recording artist, guitarist Ottmar Liebert. The guitar sounds purposely distorted on Walkin’ The Levee, which depicts the ghosts of New Orleans dancing on the levee in a spiritual celebration. The jazzy saxophone of George Brooks carries the rhythm and is the featured instrument on Rite of Passage.
Split Decision is Rogers' first studio recording in seven years. It marks a reunion between him and Blind Pig, which released some of his first recordings in the late ’80s. The Redding, California, native began playing guitar at age twelve. He became hooked on playing slide guitar after discovering Elmore James. In 1980, he formed the Delta Rhythm Kings, and then toured with John Lee Hooker for four years before releasing his first solo album. Throughout this disc, Rogers contributes vocals, guitars, and percussion. His slide guitar isn’t as racous as you may like and his substance-lacking vocals do not carry much emotion. A stronger vocalist could have elevated this roots recording to a higher ground. Rogers’ production has created a very polished sound where there are no jagged edges. If you are open-minded about your roots music, you’ll like this CD.
A similar version of this review appeared in Living Blues Magazine issue 2001.
Review copyright © by Tim Holek, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.