David Jacobs-Strain

Ocean or a Teardrop

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Already established as a major young figure in the blues, David Jacobs-Strain widens his horizons a bit with this album. Blues remains at the roots, but in some cases, such as the adventurous "Earthquake" or the lyrical "Illinois," it's a little obscured by the branches overhead. That's not to say he's entirely turning his back on what begat him: there are splendid versions of songs by Blind Willie Johnson and Mississippi Fred McDowell here, while his version of Sleepy John Estes' "Girl I Love" is a delight of slide guitar played with a maturity far beyond his young ears. But Jacobs-Strain has rapidly developed as a writer, as something like "Take My Chances" shows. Featuring oud and kora along with more standard Western instruments, it's a tour de force for his gravelly voice, while "Yelapa Breakdown" transports him somewhat into early country territory, with some superb fiddle work from Joe Craven (who's also outstanding on the title track). But perhaps the hardest-hitting cuts here feature a very small band -- both "Shoot the Devil" and "Sleepless Dream" benefit from a glorious tension in the arrangements that propels the music along. Getting better on guitar every day, never flashy or arrogant about his talent, Jacobs-Strain is set to become a major figure in music, not just blues.

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