Dan Livingstone and The Griffintown Jug Addicts

Par Gary Weeks, Blues Blast Magazine (USA), Illinois Blues Society, Avril 2012

► As stated in the CD liner jacket, this work was recorded live with no overdubs and slick production that would otherwise ruin a pretty good affair. Nothing wrong with an honest approach because it’s the type of thing that works for Dan Livingstone And The Griffintown Jug Addicts.

No original material exists so it’s up to Livingstone’s finger-picking style to add a touch of jazz, ragtime, swing and barbershop quartet to ancient blues standards by the likes of Gary Davis, Arthur Blake and Fred McDowell. If anything, it’s plunging into a time portal that takes a psychic journey into Depression era America. McDowell seems to be Dan’s favorite. Back to back renditions of Write Me A Few Of Your Lines and 61 Highway are perfect opening cuts and door openers to a treasure chest of songs best played at a backyard barbeque of a home located either in rural Mississippi or the Appalachian mountains. The CD lasts only for little more than half an hour. You can view it as just the right amount of listening time or not getting enough of a good thing.

Assisted by Julia Narveson on washtub bass, Brad Levin on washboard and Colin Perry on lead guitar and tenor banjo, this is a group of people not having any regards for being a commercial success overnight. Certainly this was not in their game plan when this music was recorded. Livingstone isn’t aiming for radio airplay so much as just having fun with a group of friends. And the man does have fun. The group seems to be in their element as they mix jug, blues and bluegrass in the obscure Arthur Blake Chump Man Blues that is as strong as any moonshine found in an abandoned shotgun shack. And you don’t have to wait too long before getting an injection of rag-time as the band rips into Fulton Allen’s Rag Mama Rag with Perry’s banjo playing front and center.

Even when the momentum slips into a slower groove as it does in Blake’s Black Dog Blues the feeling is still downhome and not becoming mournful. Although when turning in Gary Davis’ Death Don’t Have No Mercy does the mood get dark and somber. Of course that’s expected when taking on the funeral dirge of this Davis classic that in turn becomes a celebration of life and sending the deceased off with a positive exit.

Livingstone can’t seem to escape from Fred McDowell’s shadow. Another hidden McDowell gem Done Left Here sees Dan fingerpicking to his heart’s delight with a glee old Fred himself could appreciate. On the surface the momentum is rushed but is just right for the song’s backwoods jubilee effect that would have a drunkard wake up from his blackout and start the day all over again with bourbon on ice. And to get the best picture of Livingstone in his natural habitat where his finger-picking reaches an apex, one listen to Last Steam Engine Train by John Fahey is the best track to end this project with. Livingstone has acknowledged Hot Tuna as an influence which doesn’t come as a surprise. This instrumental finds Dan embellishing the Piedmont style with an aggressive finger-picking attack those students at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peach Ranch would seriously study if they ever wish to get a handle on playing Piedmont style. This CD is as good as start as any for players wishing to abandon their hard rock background and go back in time to where old timey music was an enriching source and an inspirational tool for players where fun was the norm and the spirit of good times ruled the roost.