‘Rich Man Poor’ from accomplished roots bluesman Lewis Cohen(February 24, 2012)
There’s a new album that has to be in any blues collection, it’s ‘Rich Man Poor’ from accomplished roots bluesman Lewis Cohen. The album showcases an eclectic mix of his distinctive work faultlessly interpreting pre-war country and acoustic blues alongside his own self-penned material. Much like the title, Cohen’s work is rich in depth, power and presence and yet I for one can’t understand how he remains unjustifiably poor in recognition. Wider appreciation is surely what this singularly powerful singer and ace blues guitarist deserves – if there’s any justice ‘Rich Man Poor’ should do that.
‘Rich Man Poor’ opens with Cohen delivering a precisely cut version of ‘Judge Harsh’ - originally by American country blues guitarist Walter ‘Furry’ Lewis. This is followed by ‘Carry That Load’– this time a Cohen original. The fact these songs sit so well together gives you some idea of how good Cohen is at his art. There’s a tradition that only black Americans from the Deep South brought up on hardship, oppression and grief can truly express the essence of such songs. So can a white man sing the blues? Well if you’re called Lewis Cohen clearly you can - especially if your vocals are so damn close to those old bluesmen.
There’s a relaxed energy in his arrangement of ‘Hesitation Blues’ - it is simply delicious with its blend of lap steel, bass, clarinet and trumpet. There’s a yearning quality in Cohen’s powerful yet controlled vocals as he delivers his version of ‘Levee Camp Blues’ by Mississippi Fred McDowell, considered the first of the bluesmen from the 'North Mississippi' region.
The treats continue with a fine version of ‘Ice Cream Man’ - a Tom Waits original; and my personal favourite, a great vocal version of ‘Willin’’ by Little Feat. The eponymous ‘Rich Man Poor’ written by Joe Auckland from Wagon Tales, features Cohen on guitar and vocals, with Auckland on banjo and backing vocals. And by way of an instrumental coda, Cohen lays down the simple yet achingly beautiful tune ‘Yase Shalom’.
In a world that often allows limited aptitude instant recognition, how long can it be before this man with barrow loads of talent makes a huge mark on the music industry? Not long I hope.
Reviewer: Tom Franks