Hans Theessink

Journey On

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Taking his cues from the '70s output of Ry Cooder, there is nothing in the sound of the Dutch-born and raised Hans Theessink that would indicate he learned his craft from albums and not from being raised in the swamps of Mississippi. His dusky baritone, greasy slide licks, and soulful male backup singers (led by Cooder vet Terry Evans who turns in a stunning performance throughout) plant him firmly into the deep South. The gospel feel of the title track, along with its subtle shuffle beat and rousing yet mellifluous supporting vocalists, sounds as natural as if he spent his entire life soaking up the spirits of the bluesmen he obviously adores. When he and the elegant singers harmonize on "Set Me Free," with pedal steel crying and longtime cohort John Sass' tuba counterpointing the bass, you can almost feel the flies buzzing around your head as you sit beside the banks of the mighty Mississippi. The ghost of Robert Johnson haunts this graceful music, yet the feel is less of the raw Delta blues than of a shimmering, daydream inhabited by the spirits of the swamp. Similar to J.J. Cale, Theessink finds his soul hovering through the backwoods, and with his sympathetic band, he has created an album that is hypnotizing in its intensity. Jaunty covers of Willie Dixon's humorous "29 Ways," Rufus Thomas' classic "Walking the Dog," and Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues" all get similar treatment, as Theessink nudges these often-covered tunes into the marsh and mud, wrapping his voice around them and providing interpretations so unique and distinctive it seems he's re-written the songs. An album-closing solo turn on Muddy Waters' "Feel Like Going Home" is a beautiful, sad coda, as the guitarist takes his time languidly unspooling the track, as if he's playing at home alone. In fact, the entire disc sounds comfy and cozy, with Theessink secure in his talents and especially those of his remarkable band. This is an artist steeped in the blues, but like Ry Cooder, one who successfully interprets it in his own characteristic fashion, which is what makes Journey On so consistently engaging, on so many levels.

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