A Long-Lost 90s Psychedelic Blues Treasure Rescued from Obscurity

by delarue

Guitarist Hugh Pool is sort of a New York counterpart to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Obviously, that’s not a completely fair comparison, considering that Pool outlived Vaughan the day he turned 36. He’s more versatile than Vaughan ever was, tackling everything from the fiery electric blues he’s best known for, to the spare, antique, otherworldly sound of his Mulebone collaboration with multi-instrumentalist John Ragusa. Then again, Vaughan didn’t live to see himself inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame – alongside both B.B. King and Eric Clapton, go figure – like Pool did last year.

Pool has also just re-released a rare 1996 recording, Willsboro Sound Lab, available on cd for the ridiculously low price of seven bucks. Like so many deserving obscurities from the early days of the web, it hasn’t made it to Spotify yet. What’s most striking about this album is not necessarily how tight it is, but how tantalizingly brief Pool’s solos are. For a guy who’s made a name for himself on the jamband circuit, he really makes every note count. The album opens with What I Did, a swinging, wah guitar-driven update on Hendrix-inspired 70s hard funk. The rhythm section – bassist Mike Bernal and drummer Matt Mousseau – establish a groove that will stay in place throughout the rest of the session. The open-tuned Angel’s Hair blends subtle, soulful slide work alongside Mike Latrell’s similarly low-key organ: it has the purist feel of a late 80s/early 90s electric Hot Tuna number, albeit with bass that’s closer to the ground.

The gracefully bouncing, understatedly moody When the Well Runs Dry mingles spare jangle, and clang along with keening, shivery slide work. Pool’s ominous, distantly Detroit-tinged solo could have gone on for four times as long and nobody would be complaining. “You can feel the cold when you open the door,” he intones broodingly.

Pool finally cuts loose, but still choosing his spots, with wrist-shattering tremolo, lightning Hendrix hammer-ons and some big crunchy stadium chords in the funky, dynamically shifting, psychedelic I Forgot Where I Was. The ep winds up with the quietly menacing nocturne Big Ol’ Moon, Pool’s lingering, hypnotic acoustic and electric multitracks anchored by Mousseau’s spare, deep-space boom.

Fans of rootsy psychedelia, from Jorma’s many projects, to current-day New York artists like Eric Ambel and Lizzie & the Makers should check this out. Pool’s next New York gig is July 27 at midnight at the Ear Inn, the final stop on his current US tour. In addition to his own projects, Pool plays lead guitar in Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons, who have a birthday gig coming up at 10 PM on July 15 at Sidewalk, followed a set by downtown siren Carol Lipnik, who will be airing out some of Leckie’s most haunting art-rock songs.