While Sugarcane Collins is not a well-known blues name in the US, the release of this album might change that. Hailing from Cairns, Queensland, Australia, this guitarist’s throaty, deep voice is more suited to a pub somewhere in the Mississippi river delta.
In Way Down the River, Sugarcane recreates the world of the old south, with its prisons, bars, freight trains, and the roads that lead to nowhere. The imagery is made more lifelike by the honest intensity and passion in Sugarcane’s voice. The lyrics do not mince words, and give a vivid picture of the harsh reality that was the delta. His hard, driving guitar playing contributes to this intensity with complex fingerpicking and wine bottleneck slides.
In this album of completely original compositions, he shows a solid connection to his music and to the blues on the whole. He lists inspirations such as Charlie Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Blind Blake and Leadbelly, all of whom can be heard to have an influence on his playing. Not only is the musicianship on this recording exceptional, but the whole album was produced and arranged by Sugarcane himself.
Even though this album is Sugarcane’s show, the other musicians on the tracks are in no way lacking. Andy Vogel plays some hardcore blues harmonica through out the album, especially in "I’ve Heard the News". His introductory track, "Like a Midnight Shower of Rain" sets the tone of the album, bluesy, reflective and powerfully mournful. Bryce Wearne’s jew’s harp is the driving sound in "Dancing Rabbit Creek," a tribute to the native people of the delta who had their land taken from them treaty by treaty. The instrumental is sparsely arranged and Gary Howard mimics native drum rhythms on the congas. "Shine the Light" features Bob Howlett on the organ and a congregational choir, highlighting the spiritual, revivalist part of southern culture. It has all the soul and power of any gospel song, combined with Sugarcane’s bluesy rhythms.
For anyone who loves the blues, as a listener or a musician, this CD will likely make your top ten list. The sound is amazing and the musicianship is enthralling. You’ll be dancing in no time!