By Georgetown Fats August 2009 To paraphrase Kathleen Whitney Barr, “I know blues music when I hear it”. Given my track record for reviews, I may be labeled a blues purist. Slide to Freedom 2 is not a blues disk. Slide to Freedom 2 IS wildly ambitious and inspirational world music project blending elements of blues, pop, traditional Indian instrument and gospel. From the opening tabla rhythm on “Make a Better World” the band locks in, blending the bass and resophonic Lap-style guitars with Satvik Veena John Boutte’s soulful vocals and lyrics inspire with power rarely heard in ‘pop music’. Bhatt’s solo on the Satvik Veena and Cox’ solo on the resonator do just enough to show their undeniable skills on their respective instruments without taking away from the song. “A Letter Home” is an instrumental which starts off with either an extended run on the Satvik Veena and/or the Mohan Veena, having a very limited knowledge of traditional Indian Music, I would not be able to claim to know the difference. The slide sound and use of glissandi are not unlike bottle neck acoustic guitar, just with an added level of color. There is a lot going on in this track, but yet it never reaches a self involved or repetitive point. John Boutte is back on “I Scare Myself,” adding his soulful vocals over another musical fusion track. It is a hauntingly beautiful track about lost love and personal destruction. Dinah D’s bass line holds this track all together and is the foundation which allows the interplay between Cox’s resonator and Bhatt’s veena. At roughly five minutes long, hopefully this track will gain crossover appeal of Triple A radio. “Amazing Grace” is a yet another interesting treatment on what is considered to be a religious hymn. I have heard punk versions of “Amazing Grace”, solo performances, bagpipe instrumentals, traditional choral arrangements and gospel treatments. I love them all. I now have found my favorite recorded version of this hymn. The background music is sparse and understated allowing Boutte the room to lay down an awe-inspiring vocal track. “For You Blue” is another blues fusion track. Cox kicks off the track with a brief resonator fill before Dinah D lays down another Blues bass line. It is another 12 bar progression with fills on both the resonator and Satvik Veena. Ramkumar Mishra’s work on the Tabla mimics a basic shuffle groove on a drum set. It is unique to hear that traditional drum groove without any use of cymbals, but it works. “Freedom Raga” implements the Veena with traditional blues stop time. Yet again another work of musical genius. First Cox provides the accents and flourishes with his Resonator while Bhatt adds a rhythm track with his Veena, then they switch, and then they trade solos, all while Dinah D lays just enough of a bass groove down to keep the time flowing while Ramkumar Mishra pulls a ridiculous amount of notes from his tabla and percussion. In addition to this outstanding musicianship on the track, Boutte performs a lyrical vamp loaded with gospel tones. With two more instrumentals (“Blessings” and “The Moods of Madhuvanti”) Slide to Freedom 2 is eight tracks with the ability to have even the toughest critic singing “Kumbaya” or “We are the world” with their neighbors. Northern Blues deserves credit and respect for releasing this disk and Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt deserve all of the professional credits and awards they are bound to receive. This disk and project is something special, hopefully Fred Litwin & Company receive the appropriate financial incentive to release a “Slide to Freedom 3”.
Blues Revue August/September 2009 My friend Vito books concerts for a munipality. Part of his job is to hire vendors who sell hot dogs and fried dough at musical events in the Northeast. When Vito came up with a lemon-sherbet-with-chocolate-sauce combination for an ice cream vendor, the vendor thought he was nuts - until it became the biggest seller on the grounds. Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt could become the blues world's lemon sherbet and chocolate sauce. Canadian dobro player Cox teams up with Indian raga master Bhatt, backed by seventh-generation New Orleans Creole singer John Voutte on five of the eight numbers on Slide to Freedom 2. Together they create a sound that's less startling on record than it sounds in print, 44 years after the Stones and the Beatles teamed with Ravi Shankar. The potential stumbling block is that classical Indian traditions are so rigid that it took Salil Bhatt 20 years to master the Mohan Veena, an instrument his father created. Most Indian instrumentalists die of old age thinking they have yet to master their multi-stringed instruments. Many Creole singers, on the other hand, can be so emotionally over-the-top they can be almost impossible for a band to follow. "For You Blue" on Slide to Freedom is the most jarring example of a potential big-bang fission bomb on the album. But the explosion never happens, instead, the mantra-like hypnotic effect of Indian strings supports the vocals and makes you forget you've heard "Amazing Grace" almost as many times as "Mustang Sally." The white-hot, razor-cut, hyper-focus of Indian strings combined with the drone effect is very bluesy. Think of Jimmy Reed's vocals: His alcohol-drenched, cut-glass voice is at the same time soothing. With Reed as with Slide to Freedom 2, the yin and yang collide, but the black and white never become grey. It helps that the musicians have impressive credentials that overcome any awkwardness that might make the chocolate sauce fight the sherbet. Cox worked with the late, great Long John Baldry and has educational creds an arm long. Salil Bhatt is the son of India's Grammy Award winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. And John Boutte is the 2009 offBEAT Best of the Beat Award winner for Best Male Vocalist and Best Traditional Jazz Album.
This is quite the striking album. Doug Cox plays Resophonic Lap-styled slide guitar while Salil Bhatt plays slide on his lap with the Satvik Veena. A sequel to their2007 endeavor, Slide to Freedom 2 continues the marriage of the blues with traditional classical Indian music and takes it even one step further. New Orleans vocalist John Boutte adds his soulful warmth and charm with vibrant vocals to contrast the unique sliding sounds of lap played stringed instruments. Before I get into the music, I feel compelled to talk about the Indian “guitar.” Called a ‘Veena’, it is a traditional Indian stringed instrument which originated back in the 1600’s. A resonator chamber (carved out of some sort of hardwood) attached to a long neck with many strings that play both melody and resonant harmonies give it a familiar sound. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Salil’s father, developed the Mohan Veena, a hybrid slide guitar, about 30 years ago. It has 19 strings under very high tension and is played lap-style. It has a carved spruced top, mahogany back and sides, a mahogany neck, and a flat, fretless, rosewood fingerboard complete the construction. His son Salil has created a new variant on the Veena and has named it the Satvik Veena. This is made of a 100-year-old oak wood block; its top made of pinewood to let the sound filter and resonate and it has two f - shaped sound holes to provide the easy emergence of sound. It looks sort of like a confused hollow bodied guitar on some big time steroids. When I first put the CD in and went through it I said, “Wow!” I had not heard the original CD, so I guess I was not prepared. The sound is lilting and mysterious, yet somewhat familiar. Cox and Bhatt take their guitars seriously and make some beautiful sounds blend into a web of lap slide perfection. I try to stay away from blow by blow reviews, but in this case I make an exception and cover the CD from stem to stern. The opener, “Make a Better World,” is a song about tolerance and living together. The blend of American and Indian instruments brings home the ideas spoken to in the lyrics and vocals. It is a beautiful song. “A Letter Home” follows, an interesting instrumental piece that winds and slides through hills and valleys for nearly 10 minutes yet it does not drag. Two songs later the guitar players go off on another long instrumental venture called “Blessings,” another compelling blend of American and Indian music with a bit more tempo. Sandwiched between them is “I Scare Myself,” a hauntingly beautiful love song. Boutte impresses with his vocals; his efforts along with the two slide-men make even the traditional hymn “Amazing Grace” sound fresh and new. Another longer instrumental follows this, “The Moods of Madhuvanti,” and it is classical Indian music done with a Resophonic harmony. They also cover the Beatles’ “For You Blue;” it is interesting to contrast Lennon’s fuzzy lap slide work in the original song with Cox and Bhatt’s slides and Harrison’s vocals with Boutte’s. The Indian guitar sounds in this song feel natural; it is as if the Beatles’ intended this song to be in their post-Maharishi visit music style. “Freedom Raga” closes the set. A ‘raga’ is a traditional Hindu music style where the tune uses a base note with five or more notes form the basic melody. Boutte’s vocals “I got freedom” and “walk with me” rhythmically repeated and the guitar work make this another compelling tune. I really enjoyed this album. The more I played it the more the nuances of harmony and tone came out and made the further listening even more fun. The backing sound of Dinah D on bass and Ramkumar Mishra on tabla and percussion make it all the more inviting and driving. And Salil’s dad makes a guest appearance on the Beatles’ cover on his Mohan Veena, making the guitar harmonies even more divergent and special. It is a great album. As a blues fan, if you have even the faintest spark of interest in Indian music, this album is a must to buy! Posted by Steve Jones at 1:33 PM Labels: July-August 2009 Newsletter
http://www.musiccityblues.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=422&Itemid=48 In 2007, Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt collaborated on the first volume of "Slide To Freedom" for the Northern Blues label, and it was quite well-received. These fellows have combined their considerable chops for a follow-up, "Slide To Freedom 2: Make A Better World," which picks up right where the last one concluded. Doug Cox is one of Canada's most revered slide guitarists, known for his recorded works, festival appearances, and instructional workshops. Salil Bhatt is a renowned "world music" player whose father, the legendary V. M. Bhatt, mentored Eric Clapton and George Harrison back in the Seventies. Salil is proficient on many Far Eastern instruments, especially so on the nineteen-stringed mohan veena, which us Westerners might compare to the sitar. Their first effort was a brilliant fusion of their talents, but we found this one to be superior. On this set, the gentlemen are joined by a soulful, up-and-coming jazz singer from New Orleans, John Boutte. His vocals give this one that little "something extra" to complement the surrounding string work. Boutte kicks things off Crescent-City-style with the leadoff title cut, the Earl King composition that fits in perfectly with his heritage. It's also brimming with solid runs from both Doug and Salil on their respective instruments, giving this one a definitive "world" flavor. There are several outstanding instrumentals as well, such as "The Moods Of Madhuvanti," and "A Letter Home," where the fellows get into some serious interplay, seemingly able to feed off each other's creative energy. We had two favorites, too, both of which featured John's vocals. Perhaps the most "straight blues" cut is a sweet (albeit too short for us!) slide-drenched version of George Harrison's "For You Blue." The other is "Amazing Grace," with the subdued lead work of the strings behind John's vocals completing a sweet sound, for sure. Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt are two singularly different musical individuals, altho when their talents are combined, the results are astonishing. On "Slide To Freedom 2: Make A Better World," the whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts!! Until next time.....Sheryl and Don Crow.
Thursday, 25 June 2009 Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt with Ramkumar Mishra - Slide To Freedom Album: Slide To Freedom Genre: Blues Style: Slide Guitar Blues, Indian Classical Released: 2007 Label: NorthernBlues File: MP3 VBR Size: 80 MB Tracklist: 1 Pay Day 2 Bhoopali Dance 3 Arabian Night 4 Soul Of A Man 5 Fish Pond 6 Father Kirwani 7 Beware Of The Man (who calls you bro) 8 Meeting By The Liver Notes: This is brilliant! Can you imagine a fusion of country-blues with Indian classical music? Well, something like it has been tried before, and I’ve got several examples in my collection, eg most recently the famed Waterlily Acoustics titles from the 1990s where slide maestro Vishwa Mohan Bhatt teamed up with a series of blues/roots celebrities such as Ry Cooder or Taj Mahal. VM’s instrument was the 19-string mohan veena, which in effect he invented by a redesign of the western Hawaiian guitar – to which he added drone and sympathetic strings to enable the assimilation of sitar, sarod and veena techniques. VM’s son Salil here plays the 20-stringed satvik veena, which allows him to incorporate both vocal (gayaki) and instrumental (tantrakari) representations from Indian classical music within his dynamic and exhilarating playing style. But we’re eased in gently with a version of Mississippi John Hurt’s Pay Day, where Salil’s instrument is introduced gradually – yet once his presence is established in the aural picture nothing could sound more natural working in with Doug’s resonator guitar (dobro to you and me!) and the scintillating tabla rhythms provided by Ramkumar Mishra. The disc contains two further examples of blues-type pieces given the gentle-spirited fusion treatment: Blind Willie Johnson’s Soul Of A Man (some fine syncopated drumming here too) and Doug’s own determinedly wry composition Beware Of The Man: both are a triumph for the participants, who are clearly getting high on the interplay and spark a real sense of enjoyment alongside the obvious empathy they have as musicians. Salil’s veena, with its characteristic insistent tone and method of attack would appear to contradict the essentially laid-back character of the dobro, but the contributions (and personalities) of the two instruments are heard to have more in common than might at first be suspected. The remainder of the disc comprises a selection of more obviously Indian-inspired items, mostly joint exercises in composition by the three musicians. Arabian Night, despite its title, seems to take the form of a brief raga, with veena and guitar taking the call-and-response roles from the introductory alap through to the ensuing exposition, whereas Bhoopali Dance is more akin to an impressionistic episode and the dobro harmonics positively gleam and glisten, and the disc’s finale, Meeting By The Liver, includes a tabla solo that ushers in a suitably aroused conclusion to the proceedings. Father Kirwani, a composition by VM Bhatt, sees Doug’s instrument take the lead in the call-and-response alap, yet there are times when it’s hard to tell which musician is playing, so close and sincerely imitative are their individual contributions. The dance the musicians lead is even more vital on this track and Soul Of A Man due to the guest presence of VM himself adding another intricate layer to the richly detailed texture, with which the recording copes superbly (as throughout, in fact). This is a record filled with virtuoso playing, sure, but one that should give enormous pleasure to anyone prepared to open their ears to the possibilities its completely natural musical fusion affords – listener or practising musician alike. Slide To Freedom Posted by Ballas at 01:00 Labels: Doug Cox, Salil Bhatt 2 comments: The Irate Pirate said... oh, ballas! you are awesome! I absolutely love raga-blues projects, or just plain indian classical slide guitar. i'll post some soon. 25 June 2009 03:12 Tuts said... This is brilliant,very soothing fretwork by both players.I listen to a lot of indian stuff so this is another sojourn along the path,thanks heaps fpr this post. 25 June 2009 23:03
*Rating 4 Stars The followup to 2007's Slide to Freedom finds Vancouver Island guitarist Doug Cox, one of the modern-day slide greats, matched evenly by Salil Bhatt, a master of the 20-string Satvik Veena. Cox, Bhatt and tabla player Ramkumar Mishra are joined here by a ridiculously rich group of friends (including Grammy winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Salil's father) for an exercise in expert, heartfelt playing that nearly defies description. Throw in a red-hot singer from Louisiana (the incomparable John Boutte), a standup bassist from Gabriola Island (Dinah D of the Kerplunks) and a cover of Liverpudlian descent (For You Blue by the Beatles) and you've got bluesy world music gold. mdevlin@tc.canwest.com © Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009
Review: Slide to Freedom II By Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt (Northern Blues Music) Review by Douglas Heselgrave Cross cultural conversations in music are nothing new, and the novelty that once accompanied the release of albums like Paul Simon’s Graceland has long since faded away. The world is getting much smaller and almost every week one can find new and unlikely collaborations between artists as different from one another as a New York DJ and a group of Tuvan throat singers. The variety of new world music recordings available is staggering, and whether one likes Persian jazz fusion or Senegalese hip hop, there is something to fit almost every taste. With so many potentially interesting collaborations vying for music fans’ attention, it would be easy for a gem like Slide to Freedom II to get lost in the commotion. That would be a shame as it’s an album that succeeds completely on its own musical terms. Unpretentious, loose and fun, Slide to Freedom II is the second album from Doug Cox, Vishwan and Salil Bhatt. Vishwan Bhatt is one of sitarist Ravi Shankar’s most senior disciples and has long been considered amongst the world’s greatest Veena (seven stringed resonating slide) players. No stranger to cross cultural musical explorations, Bhatt collaborated with Ry Cooder in 1994 to produce Meeting by the River, a wonderful album of instrumental music that explored the common ground shared by western and Asian string traditions. Slide to Freedom II – like its predecessor - captures a joyful and spontaneous conversation with the blues filtered through Indian raga progressions. The three first met when Vishwan Bhatt and his son, Salil were touring in Canada several years ago. Doug Cox has long been a veteran of the Canadian blues scene, having recorded several albums of traditional and original music over the years, while nurturing a passion for world music that was just waiting to come to fruition. When he first heard the senior Bhatt’s music, he recognized a kindred soul and began to communicate with him online about the varieties of slide music. When the Bhatts arrived in Canada to play a series of concerts, they contacted Cox who promptly asked to study with them. Vishwan refused this request, and instead suggested that they record an album together while they were on tour. . When the musicians first sat down together, Cox brought along his slide guitar, but the tonal qualities didn’t complement the Indian instruments, so he switched to a Gadgie – a resonating hollow bodied guitar made in England – and the sounds gelled to such an extent that it’s often difficult to distinguish between what where Cox’s guitar ends and the Bhatts’ veenas begin. This synthesis of tone creates a seductive flow to the performances as guitar and veenas effortlessly weave and dance around each other. In addition to featuring delta inspired raga improvisations, Slide to Freedom I included versions of blues standards such as John Hurt’s Payday and Blind Willie Johnson’s Soul of a Man sung by Doug Cox. For the second album, Cox and Bhatt decided to bring John Boutte, a New Orleans gospel tenor on board to handle vocal duties. This was an inspired choice - for if there was one complaint about the first collaboration, it was that Cox’s voice was not on par with the divine fluidity of the music that arose out of their instruments. Boutte is a sensitive and emotive singer whose contributions to Make a better world, I scare myself and Amazing Grace raise the proceedings to a much higher level. For some people, the trio’s off the cuff recreation of George Harrison’s For You Blue, replete with psychedelic veena solos will provide reason enough to buy this album. Even though traditional tunes on a collaboration like this offer a familiar place to begin listening from, the instrumental pieces are by far the most interesting cuts on the disc. Freed from conventional song structures, tracks like The Moods of Madhuvanti – a stellar ten minute blues raga – and the aching and wistful Blessings make this an essential addition to anyone’s music collection. While it might be interesting to undertake a musicological excavation of the compositions on this album and deconstruct every phrase and find references to everything from twelve bar blues figures to Indonesian gamelan forms, it’s really beside the point. It doesn’t matter how much musical background a person has - Slide to Freedom II takes listeners on an exhilarating musical journey from beginning to end. Like a vintage guitar, this record improves with age and sounds better every time it’s played.
"Dobro means good in any language." That’s an old motto of the Dobro Manufacturing Corporation- for any of you non-industry people less than 100 years old- the word ‘dobro’ itself a trade name, now property of the Gibson Guitar Corporation, which intends to vigorously defend its exclusive rights to the name btw. So sue me. If you’ve ever spent time in a Slavic country you might be excused for imagining that they’re a race of resonance-guitar lovers, but no, in fact the word DOES mean ‘good’ in nearly all of them, so you hear it frequently. I used to jokingly refer to this for my dobro-playing younger brother without even knowing that the Slovakian-born DOpyera BROthers indeed had this also partly in mind when they named their new company. The rest is history, but only part of it. The intimate connection between blues-based slide guitar and country-based dobro doesn’t get talked about very much, much less expounded upon, but the connections are there, and it’s more than just the ‘tude. It’s the tunes. At the same time that the Dopyera Bros. and the National String Instrument Corp. were trading secrets, designs, and patents in factories and courts and board-rooms, Blind Willie McTell, Son House, Robert Johnson, and others were doing something a little bit different with their guitars in the Mississippi delta. All of them had probably played with the ‘diddley bow’ (as in ‘Bo Diddley’) as children, a one-string toy instrument eerily reminiscent of some one-string African designs, played with a glass or metal slide… The connection with Hawaiian slack-key style slide guitar is more remote, though, and India’s slide tradition hardly even known… until recently. Canadian slide guitar and Dobro master Doug Cox knows them all… and loves them… and can play most of them. But on this album he had to dig deeper into the corners to get just the sound he was looking for… on his gadgie, a resonance guitar even more obscure than a Dobro™ (satisfied now, Gibson?). “Slide to Freedom II: Make a Better World” is his latest collaboration with Indian sitarist and veena player Salil Bhatt, son of the master Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. One of the nice things about ‘world music’ is that because of the plethora of regions and cultures represented, there are no sharp divisions between classes, simply because they no longer have much meaning outside the local context. And I don’t mean social classes as much as I mean classes of anything. Everything’s connected. This is a good thing. Best of all you can be a nerd intellectual and still be cool, or you can be urban and still be country, or you can live simultaneously in about three different countries signing your e-mails with your current GPS co-ordinates (or maybe that’s just me). So you’re in a funny mood tonight and can’t decide whether you’d like to listen to some classical Indian music or some down-home folk blues? With the album ‘Slide to Freedom II: Make a Better World’ you can do both, where various versions of Indian slides on strings intermix effortlessly with their American counterparts. The album leads off with the title song “Make a Better World” by Earl King and that pretty much sets the redemptive tone for the album- “sing sing sing… join hands, do yo’ thing, make a better world to live in,” or at least about half of it anyway. In some act of cosmic symmetry, whether accidental or intentional, the album is pretty much divided between modern covers and classical-Indian-inspired instrumentals. I personally probably reached my ‘Amazing Grace’ saturation point long ago, but I can always get up for one more, and the one here is a nice to-the-nailhead-point version. And it’s always nice to hear someone cover the late great George Harrison- another Shankar disciple, along with Salil Bhatt’s father- in this case ‘For You Blue.’ But the real chestnut of a cover song is ‘I Scare Myself’ by Dan Hicks. When’s the last time you heard someone cover that? They nail it, too, its spookiness only augmented with eerie gospel vocals. A special note needs to be said about the accompaniment to the major collaborators Salil and Cox. Salil’s father and mentor Vishwa delivers a stinging almost ungodly solo on ‘For You Blue’- as though some buddy still had another lick to lay down- and Ramkumar Mishra maintains a tabla rhythm throughout the album without which it would not have been the same, nor nearly so successful. But the real revelation is New Orleans blues and gospel singer John Boutte’. After listening several times to the album without carefully perusing the notes and credits beforehand, I kept thinking, “Who is that ballsy blues mama doing the vocals?” Well ballsy indeed, imagine my surprise at seeing John Boutte’s name- and face. Little surprises like that are magical, like imagining that maybe Michael Jackson’s soul divided around 1990 and the sane half went to New Orleans and became a kick-ass blues-and-gospel singer, while the other half… you know. Tenors are not that rare, but for a blues and gospel singer? As with the tabla-based rhythm, it is excellent and serves to help define the album. The album’s other half is pretty much straight-ahead Indian string-based instrumental, heavy on the slide, which, according to Salil Bhatt, has always been an element of its use. Thus “A Letter Home,” “Blessings,” and “The Moods of Madhuva” all allow your mind to wander while simultaneously blowing it, as you meditate on origins and endings and the ways and means to it all. The beauty is that- as Doug Cox put it- you really don’t know who’s doing what all the time, the parts fit so seamlessly together. Albums like this are more than just happy accidents and brilliant mistakes. There is purpose and vision behind it. As Cox himself says: “…the future of traditional music really lies in the coming together of cultures. Folk music until now came from isolated cultures developing their own unique style of music. That’s not going to happen anymore.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. The album ends with “Freedom Raga” by Cox, which sets the still-yearning closing tone for the album, “I touch freedom, I smell freedom…” as if by simple affirmation we could correct all the slights and injustices that have ever been perpetrated in the history of the world. Would that it were that easy… Listening to “Slide to Freedom II- Make a Better World” is easy. Check it out.
eview: Slide to Freedom II By Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt (Northern Blues Music) Review by Douglas Heselgrave Cross cultural conversations in music are nothing new, and the novelty that once accompanied the release of albums like Paul Simon’s Graceland has long since faded away. The world is getting much smaller and almost every week one can find new and unlikely collaborations between artists as different from one another as a New York DJ and a group of Tuvan throat singers. The variety of new world music recordings available is staggering, and whether one likes Persian jazz fusion or Senegalese hip hop, there is something to fit almost every taste. With so many potentially interesting collaborations vying for music fans’ attention, it would be easy for a gem like Slide to Freedom II to get lost in the commotion. That would be a shame as it’s an album that succeeds completely on its own musical terms. Unpretentious, loose and fun, Slide to Freedom II is the second album from Doug Cox, Vishwan and Salil Bhatt. Vishwan Bhatt is one of sitarist Ravi Shankar’s most senior disciples and has long been considered amongst the world’s greatest Veena (nineteen stringed resonating slide) players. No stranger to cross cultural musical explorations, Bhatt collaborated with Ry Cooder in 1993 to produce Meeting by the River, a wonderful album of instrumental music that explored the common ground shared by western and Asian string traditions. Slide to Freedom II – like its predecessor - captures a joyful and spontaneous conversation with the blues filtered through Indian raga progressions. The three first met when Vishwan Bhatt and his son, Salil - a veena master in his own right - were touring in Canada several years ago. Doug Cox has long been a veteran of the Canadian blues scene, having recorded several albums of traditional and original music over the years, while nurturing a passion for world music that was just waiting to come to fruition. When he first heard the senior Bhatt’s music, he recognized a kindred soul and began to communicate with him online about the varieties of slide music. When the Bhatts arrived in Canada to play a series of concerts, they contacted Cox who promptly asked to study with them. Vishwan refused this request, and instead suggested that they record an album together while they were on tour. . When the musicians first sat down together, Cox brought along his slide guitar, but the tonal qualities didn’t complement the Indian instruments, so he switched to a Gadgie – a resonating hollow bodied guitar made in England – and the sounds gelled to such an extent that it’s often difficult to distinguish between what where Cox’s guitar ends and the Bhatts’ veenas begin. This synthesis of tone creates a seductive flow to the performances as guitar and veenas effortlessly weave and dance around each other. In addition to featuring delta inspired raga improvisations, Slide to Freedom I included versions of blues standards such as John Hurt’s Payday and Blind Willie Johnson’s Soul of a Man sung by Doug Cox. For the second album, Cox and Bhatt decided to bring John Boutte, a New Orleans gospel tenor on board to handle vocal duties. This was an inspired choice - for if there was one complaint about the first collaboration, it was that Cox’s voice was not on par with the divine fluidity of the music that arose out of their instruments. Boutte is a sensitive and emotive singer whose contributions to Make a better world, I scare myself and Amazing Grace raise the proceedings to a much higher level. For some people, the trio’s off the cuff recreation of George Harrison’s For You Blue, replete with psychedelic veena solos will provide reason enough to buy this album. Even though traditional tunes on a collaboration like this offer a familiar place to begin listening from, the instrumental pieces are by far the most interesting cuts on the disc. Freed from conventional song structures, tracks like The Moods of Madhuvanti – a stellar ten minute blues raga – and the aching and wistful Blessings make this an essential addition to anyone’s music collection. While it might be interesting to undertake a musicological excavation of the compositions on this album and deconstruct every phrase and find references to everything from twelve bar blues figures to Indonesian gamelan forms, it’s really beside the point. It doesn’t matter how much musical background a person has - Slide to Freedom II takes listeners on an exhilarating musical journey from beginning to end. Like a vintage guitar, this record improves with age and sounds better every time it’s played.
The album Slide to Freedom II is being hailed as eclectic mix of blues, Indian music with a touch of bluesgrass. The two principal players are Doug Cox. He is a Canadian steeped in the various blues styles of the American South. He is deeply into playing the bottleneck blues on the Dobro. Salil Bhatt is from India and his family tree includes his father, Grammy Award Winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, who studied under the great Ravi Shankar John Boutte adds his soulful voice to several of the songs. Of course, he needs know introduction here. Slide to Freedom II is a collaboration that goes far beyond the obvious “Indian meets blues.” It’s an improvised road trip across the terra incognita of the planet’s slide instruments. “People often think of slide instruments like the dobro as hokey American folk instruments, the kind of thing you play while sitting on a haybale,” Cox smiles, “but slide developed all over the world, from the United States to India and China, though it has a North American reputation. If you look at most folk music, there usually is some kind of slide involved.” India may in fact rival North America in its devotion to and creative license with lap-style slide instruments. Salil Bhatt hails from a long line of sitar and veena masters and innovators, most notably his father and fellow collaborator on Slide to Freedom II, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, one of Ravi Shankar’s oldest sitar disciples and an old buddy of George Harrison. The late Beatle is honored on “For You Blue,” where Vishwa takes a wild and eerie solo. At the suggestion of NorthernBlues’ label head Fred Litwin, Cox decided they should tackle gospel standard, “Amazing Grace,” though he hesitated at first. That is, until Boutté began to tell the story behind the hymn, how it was written by 18th-century British slave trader John Newton, whose religious revelation caused him to demand humane treatment of his human cargo and eventually condemn human trafficking. Boutté’s words proved revelatory for Salil and Vishwa: “They had never heard an African-American talking about the experience of slavery,” Cox muses. “We were all so moved that when we sat down to record the track, it became this otherworldly music. They just got it.”
It's too easy to lazily affix the word "eclectic" to describe the musical affectations of Doug Cox but the shoe fits. Blending acoustic, blues and classical Indian music, the West coast native again teams up with Indian slide guitarist Salil Bhatt to deliver an aural mélange by way of dobro and slide guitar. A sequel to their 2007 outing, the vocals have always been overshadowed by Cox and Bhatt's delectable instrumentation, and here is no exception, with tracks like opener "Make a Better World." Then again, it's hard to dismiss the earnestness of the message with such precise musicianship on display via songs like "A Letter Home" and "Blessings." Slide To Freedom II is short (eight tracks) and the two collaborators come together to create a sound that's ethereal and tangible at the same time. (Northern Blues)
Blues and Middle Eastern music are not often thought to go stylistically hand in hand. However, on the second release by slide guitarist Doug Cox and satvik veena-player Salili Bhatt, 2009's Slide to Freedom 2: Make a Better World, both musical worlds do indeed coexist, and surprisingly, can do so quite cohesively. But for the most part, it's the Middle Eastern musical style that overshadows the blues here, especially on such tunes as "A Letter Home" and "Blessings." However, on such ditties as the album-opening "Make a Better World," as well as a cover of "Amazing Grace," both aforementioned styles are detected, with the blues/soul being provided primarily by singer John Boutté. For fans of world music with a modern-day twist, Slide to Freedom 2: Make a Better World is certainly worth some close inspection.