Saturday, October 4, 2014

Album Review: Marshall Lawrence – House Call


This CD review was originally published in the August 15, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Marshall Lawrence – House Call

Self Release

13 tracks / 43:37

Singer and guitarist Marshall Lawrence was given the nickname “Doctor of the Blues” by one of his fans, and it stuck. The funny thing is that he actually has a doctoral degree in psychology, which should be a requirement for anybody that is trying to keep a band together. He hails from the prairie city of Edmonton, Alberta, and has been practicing his art in the studio as well as at festivals and clubs throughout the territories of the chilly north. When performing his acoustic live show he will usually appear solo, or sometimes in a duo or trio. I have heard that it is a real treat to see him play, and hope to catch a show the next time I am in Canada.

House Call is Lawrence’s fourth solo release in the past ten years, and it builds on the solid work that he did on his previous award-winning albums. There are eleven original tracks (all written by Lawrence) and two covers, none of which run over four minutes. He takes care of the vocals, guitar, mandolin and hand percussion, and is joined by a pair of top-shelf players: Russell Jackson on upright bass and David “Hurricane” Hoerl on harmonica. These guys are awesome musicians; you may know Jackson from B.B. King’s band, and Hoerl from The Twisters.

Marshall’s music is described as “Neo-Delta Acid Blues & Roots” but this acoustic set is not the least bit corrosive to the ears, and he has taken the rough edge of the Delta music and used it to cut some killer tracks. “Mean Momma Blues” is up first and he displays smooth fingerpicking skills and the ability to lay down a strong groove with his acoustic guitar. You would never think he grew up 2000 miles away from the Mississippi, as his songwriting and performance capture its essence completely. He is helped along the way by Hoerl and his uncanny feel for the harp, and a neat rhythm on the bass from Jackson.

The CD packaging announces “With Special Guests, The Holmes Brothers,” and indeed their vocal harmonies can be found in the gospel tune “Factory Closing Blues.” Their voices are so pretty that I would be afraid to join in with them, but Marshall plunges right in with his pleasantly worn tenor and takes the lead. He proves his ability to tell a story through song, this time the all-too common refrain of the victims of economic woes. Everything clicks perfectly in this track, and it is my favorite of the bunch, which is a bold statement as there are a lot of very good songs on this disc.

He is able to navigate though different Southern genres with alacrity. “Please Help Me Find My Way Home” is a lovely Southern blues (again with a touch of gospel) piece which features David Aide on the organ. His B3 sets the mood, and it is truly a welcome addition. The lyrics are particularly poignant: the tale of a soul seeking a more eternal existence after following a wicked path in the temporal world.

“The Ballad of Molly Brown” starts off with a harmonica intro, and then takes off running with a thumping bass line and layers of acoustic and slide National guitar. This folk blues song is roots music at its best, and when it ended after a bit over three minutes it left me wanting more. Fortunately the next tune in the queue was “Biscuit Rolling Daddy”, which contains a surplus of bawdy double entendres plus oodles of super-slick fingerpicking. This song has a unique sound with its pseudo-classical guitar part, and is just the sort of thing that could draw new fans into the blues genre.

The same thing can be said as Lawrence gives the other guys a break and takes on Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat Blues” with just his voice and guitar. He brings this fast-paced Delta blues song into the present age with some truly innovative picking and rhythms.

The album comes to a close with the traditional lament, “Death’s Black Train.” Lawrence called in a few more guest artists for this one, drummer Dwayne Hrinkiw and vocalist Barry Allen for some background parts. Hrinkiw lays down a heavy rhythm with his kick drum and snare that drives this song on relentlessly, and Allen’s voice is a good match for Lawrence’s as they harmonize through the chorus. This is yet another solid track and was a great choice to end things up.

After listening to this album it is obvious that Marshall Lawrence understands the blues and has the ability to translate it for today’s audience though his clever songwriting, deft fingers and soulful voice. This is one of the best new albums I have heard this year, and if you are a fan of Delta music or just like the blues, House Call is sure to please. Check it out if you get the chance!


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