C. W. Stoneking's sound is reminiscent of blues recordings past 

Learning the Blues

click to enlarge Melbourne, Australia's C. W. Stoneking makes music perfect for front porches

Courtesy Ground Control Touring

Melbourne, Australia's C. W. Stoneking makes music perfect for front porches

Listening to the music of Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist C. W. Stoneking is like stumbling onto some lost blues artifact from the 1930s or '40s. And it's not just because Stoneking digs into an array of classic blues styles, from solo guitar-and-vocal wails to creepy Appalachian backwoods laments to roadhouse stomps that seem to test the very limits of his hoarse, emotional shout of a voice. It's because his albums, the most recent of which is 2016's Gon' Boogaloo, are absolutely soaked in the ambience of the past.

Stoneking's songs are buried under layers of distortion and fuzz, as if they're being played on an old transistor radio or a 78 vinyl. They bring to mind the recordings of Robert Johnson or the first Chess Records releases by Howlin' Wolf, where the instruments and voices are a blur of primal sound. It's not just that Stoneking has the styles down — he has the aesthetics down as well. It's indicative of someone who fell in love with all forms of early 20th-century blues as a young man. Or, at the very least, someone with friends who fell in love with it.

"To be honest when I first got into that music, it was because the people I was hanging with were into that music," Stoneking says. "I sort of liked a lot of different stuff, but there wasn't anything else available where I could play in a group and get paid for it. That's how I got started with it."

But as he learned more about artists like Son House, Robert Johnson, Skip James, and Bukka White, and styles like gospel blues, Chicago blues, and ragtime, Stoneking fell in love with the kaleidoscopic variety of approaches he encountered.

"As I continued on that path, I started to become more interested in it from the standpoint of a guitar player," he says. "Vintage blues from the '20s and '30s encompasses so many different styles. And there was something satisfying about exploring that music."

Stoneking emerged in the late '90s as an artist fully immersed in classic blues. And musically, he could move among those styles at will, coming off like a broken-down, brokenhearted man, swaying from a backwoods swampy mystic to a fiery preacher from song to song — and never feeling like a nostalgia act.

And then there's that aesthetic that Stoneking drenches the songs in, though he says that throwback production style has more to do with the instruments and equipment he uses than anything behind the soundboard.

"In fact, I think the first two records, which I think sound older than the newest one, were recorded in really modern circumstances," he says. "I think it was just the sound of the instruments we used and the way the arrangements worked."

He does acknowledge, though, that he keeps the overall sound in mind as he writes and records his songs.

"I guess when you use that aesthetic, it conjures a picture in my mind as I'm making the song," he says. "And I try to keep the sound in this certain tonal spectrum that enhances that feeling. There's no place that I go when I write; I just kind of fiddle about until I hear something that gives me a certain feeling and then I pursue that. If it's something that sounds interesting, I try to flesh it out and try to make whatever it's giving me as colorful as I can."

Once Stoneking starts fleshing out those ideas, there's a vocal approach to think about. It often seems like he adopts a different persona per track, molding his maniacal, gritty voice into whatever the song requires, like an actor in a film.

"If it's a story that I'm telling, it's quite visual when I'm doing it," he says. "It's almost like making a movie with sound."

That voice hasn't gone unnoticed by some of Stoneking's musical contemporaries. Earlier this year, he appeared on Jack White's new album Boarding House Reach, intoning a sinister poem over eerie orchestral backing on "Abulia & Akrasia."

"It was cool," Stoneking says of working with White, who he hadn't met before heading to the studio. "I was in New York doing some shows and I got a message from him that he was in town doing some recording. He told me to come down and bring a guitar. I didn't know what we were going to do, but I got down there, and he'd written this very verbose poem he wanted me to recite. I think he liked my speaking voice, and he already had the music recorded; there were fiddles and all sorts of things on there. It was a lot of fun to do."

Location


Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Powered by Foundation   © Copyright 2018, Charleston City Paper   RSS