Geoff Bartley revitalized his career in the late '90s with One Kind Word and Hear That Wind Howl, so 2000 seemed like a good time to reissue his classic debut Blues Beneath the Surface with a number of bonus tracks. Bartley kicks things off with a sprightly take on Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Just Love Her So" before delving into Bill Morrissey's bizarre romp, "King Jelly's Good Morning Irene Song." After noticing the great music, the listener will probably be drawn to fact that singer/songwriter Bartley doesn't feel the need to write all of his own songs. Furthermore, he's a deft interpreter. He offers a laid-back, bluesy take on Chuck Berry' "Nadine," complete with a fine harmonica break that he also plays. The acoustic arrangements on the album vacillate between solo guitar and guitar/bass/saxophone/harmonica combinations. On both "It'll Be Me" and the jazzy "On the Run too Long" a sparely played saxophone adds lots of atmosphere, while the title cut and "First Ride" give Bartley a chance to show off his fine fingerpicking skills. The proceedings take a strange turn toward the weird on "The Language of Stones," which seems to be about...learning to speak in the language of stones. This five-minute poem, along with the navel gazing "Tell It Like It Is," seems a bit out of sync with the other material and really doesn't add anything to the album. Overall, however, Blues Beneath the Surface reminds one how much fun a singer/songwriter can be when they mix fresh material, innovative arrangements, and stylish interpretations.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.