BLUES REVUE – Hal Horowitz 12/1/2006
After touring America for the past five years, winning the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge in the solo/duo category, and recording a live album in Atlanta, Lucky 13 is Australian singer/guitarist Fiona Boyes' debut U.S. release. It was worth the wait.
Recorded in Austin, Texas, and produced by horn player Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff, Boyes penned all but three tracks on this eclectic, sparkling set. Marcia Ball and Bob Margolin provide assistance, but the album doesn't really need their support; though horns, piano, fiddle, and accordion inject flavor into these tracks, the spotlight remains on Boyes' sexy vocals and snaky guitar work, which stays on low boil but infuses each song with backwoods blues.
Boyes' deep, soulful voice is similar to Ball's and every bit as powerful. She boogies with the best on "High Cotton", her voice shifting effortlessly from guttural to flowing. The pace slows to midtempo for the Cajun-flavored Crescent City groove of "Homesick Blues", and the album winds its way through swinging jump blues ("Big Bigger Biggest"), acoustic grooves ("Rambling Man Blues"), R&B-infused zydeco (a peppy "Hold Me"), and second-line funk ("You Gonna Miss Me") as if Boyes and her band were born and raised in the States.
Kazanoff's production leaves plenty of space for Boyes to spread out, even as he swamps up the sound on the opening "Chicken Wants Corn" and the tuba-enhanced ragtime funk of "Celebrate the Curves." The sizzle of Boyes' snappy picking and Joel Guzman's accordion brings an edgy tartness to the commercial-sounding R&B tune "Stranger in Your Eyes," which could be a standout single. Boyes mixes ease and professionalism with the soul of someone who comes by the blues naturally, making Lucky 13 one of the year's standout albums.
ALL MUSIC GUIDE – Jeff Tamarkin 8/7/2006
Nearly all of Fiona Boyes' previous reviews have acknowledged that she is an exceptional female blues guitarist, but it's time to lay the gender qualifier to rest: Fiona Boyes is an exceptional blues guitarist, period, as well as an exceptional vocalist and songwriter.
Having released several albums in her native Australia, both with her '90s band, the Mojos, and under her own name -- most recently a double-live set recorded in Atlanta -- Boyes finally tried her luck in the market that has inspired her music. Lucky 13 is her first American release, and it's one wicked slab of blues. Most of Boyes' previous recordings have showcased her acoustic guitar work, but from the first "Smokestack Lightning"-like notes of Lucky 13's opener, "Chicken Wants Corn," Boyes lets it be known that this time she's cranking up the volume. Her electric guitar playing throughout displays both enormous skill and a true empathy with the American roots music she's adapted as her own. With a particular allegiance to the Chicago and New Orleans styles, and nods to Texas, Memphis, and Mississippi, Boyes' picking can be alternately nasty/dirty or smooth/sweet, but regardless of the subgenre, she's consistently economical, tasteful, and imaginative, bringing to each tune crisp, melodic lines and a sense of history; there's no question that Boyes has spent many an hour studying the nuances of the form. That isn't to suggest that this is an exercise in retro, though: Boyes perfectly bridges modernity with classicism. Ten of the album's 13 tracks were composed by the artist, who keeps her sound rooted in the present while aesthetically transporting herself to Chicago's South Side of the mid-20th century to hang with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and then stepping further back to pay a visit to Memphis Minnie down in Louisiana.
For the occasion of her U.S. debut, Boyes took advantage of the local talent, augmenting her core group the Fortune Tellers with Bob Margolin, one of Waters' former guitarists; the Texan pianist Marcia Ball; saxman Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff; and others. But while her guests lend to the effort their considerable experience on the American blues scene, the spotlight is never off of Boyes, who impresses on each track with her virtuosic guitaristry and versatile vocalizing. She likes to keep the listener guessing, too: "Rockabilly on the Radio," a screaming, twanging '50s-style rocker, the tender ballad "Stranger in Your Eyes," and the jump blues "Big Bigger Biggest" may all at first seem anomalies, but they fit neatly into the plan. And although the album's focus is her electric playing, Boyes doesn't neglect her acoustic fingerpicking on Lucky 13. "Pigmeat Lover," one of a handful of tracks spotlighting longtime Asleep at the Wheel pianist Floyd Domino, recalls Maria Muldaur's early solo albums, while the cover of Lillian McMurry's "Red Hot Kisses," a duet with Margolin, is country-blues at its finest. Fiona Boyes may be from Down Under, but with albums this good she'll be on top of all of the blues polls before long.
HOUSE OF BLUES – Elwood Blues 10/1/2006
Fiona Boyes is the first Australian and first woman to win the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge. She's been blowing 'em away for years down under and now she's got her American debut on Yellow Dog Records. I want you to give this a listen - this is great stuff. Rockabilly, swing, acoustic blues, Chicago-style blues - the lady does it all, plays a wicked guitar, knows how to growl a lyric. The CD is called Lucky 13...
RELIX – Jeff Tamarkin 11/1/2006
Fiona Boyes has recorded several albums in her native Australia and won just about every “Best Blues Guitarist” award that country has to offer. But she’s especially stoked about Lucky 13 (Yellow Dog), her first U.S. release. With assistance from such American talents as Kaz Kazanoff(harp, sax, producer), Bob Margolin (guitar) and Marcia Ball (piano), Boyes has turned in one of the most sizzling blues albums — by anyone — in years.
Her vocals and songwriting are impressive, and on both acoustic and electric guitars, Boyes is consistently dynamic and inventive. Now, perhaps, the critics will stop pigeonholing her as a great female blues artist and simply recognize Boyes as a great blues artist, period. Says Boyes, “It’s frustrating for any artist to be marginalized as a mere novelty. With blues there are more interesting issues, like how do I stay true to the traditions of the genre while finding my own unique voice within it?”
MIDWEST RECORDS - Chris Spector 7/28/2006
So, let’s say you’re glad Bonnie Raitt dropped her bad habits, for her sake – you like her, you like her music, but you really miss the highway to hell sound she was full of before her comeback. This girl from Oz is just what you are looking for, she sounds like Raitt’s evil twin, and that’s really a good thing. With a first class bunch of Austin blues players on board and some first class guests like Marcia Ball and Bob Margolin dropping by, dis is da blooz! Infectious, insane fun that sounds like it came out of Woodstock in the early 70's without record company pressure for a single, Boyes is simply a riot well deserving of all the accolades she’s been racking up. This is a gem just waiting for you to pick up
BLUES BYTES – Kyle Deibler 8/14/2006
I first met Fiona Boyes in 2003 at the outdoor stage next to King’s Palace in Memphis. She was playing the day after that year’s W.C. Handy awards and I was curious to hear whether all of the IBC buzz I’d heard about her was true. What I found was an articulate artist who was true to her music, and I enjoyed her playing so much that I purchased two CDs from her that day. And while I’ve not heard her previous album, Live In Atlanta, it was a pleasure to hear from Michael Powers of Yellow Dog Records and receive her latest CD, Lucky 13, in the mail for review.
Lucky 13 is a very strong record that most likely will bring Fiona’s name to the tongues of many a listener. Ably produced in Austin, Texas by Kaz Kazanoff and featuring guest stars Bob Margolin, Marcia Ball and the Texas Horns, Lucky 13 demands your attention and commands your respect as a listener. This is a brilliant US debut album from an Australian artist we’ll be hearing about for a long time to come.
An old soul who best relates to Memphis Minnie, Fiona kicks off her record with a self-penned original song, “Chicken Wants Corn.” An odd love song at best, “I want you baby like a chicken wants corn!” Fiona’s finger picking is wonderfully complimented by the Texas Horns and lets you know early on that this lady is a force to be reckoned with. Fiona and Marcia share the spotlight on “Celebrate the Curves,” an ode to the full figured woman. “I’m built like a woman’s meant to be built with a belly, butt and boobs!” Fiona is proud of her curves and isn’t shy in letting you know that…"I put the swing in my swerve….excuse me while I celebrate my curves!”
Margolin brings his slide guitar to the forefront on Fiona’s “Good Lord Made You So.” Her man is like the wind, sometimes he’s here, other times he’s gone away. “I ain’t had no rest, no peace…you know that ain’t a lie..no rest, no peace…that man of mine keeps sliding on by.” Her man can’t help it, it’s just the way the good Lord made him be. A strong guitar intro by Fiona leads us into “Stranger in Your Eyes.” This time her man is just not what she thinks he is, “I see a stranger where I once saw a friend.” Disappointed by the man he is, Fiona confronts him with the truth and since he’s been doing her wrong, it’s time for him to move on. A wonderful sax solo by Kaz highlights an outstanding tune by Fiona, with nice accordion accompaniment from Joel Guzman. “I see a weak man where a hero used to stand.” This one just can’t have a happy ending.
New Orleans-style piano by Marcia leads the intro into “You Gonna Miss Me.” It’s time for Fiona to move on from another bad relationship and she’s proud to admonish her man with “You may never find a gal as fine as me again!” I have no doubt that’s the case and he’s a fool for ever treating her badly and watching her leave. “High Cotton” has a religious revivalist feel to it, “One of these days I hope and pray things are going to go my way….I’ll be standing in high cotton one fine day!”
The humor of Fiona returns in “Pigmeat Lover.” “You got a pigmeat lover…you didn’t treat her right….cause if the cookin’s good you know the gal will want to cook all night!” A blues song in the classic acoustic tradition of the ’20s, “Pigmeat Lover” is but one example of many that bring Fiona back to her blues roots from the early pre-war era of Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie. “Hold Me” is an upbeat love song to her man. “Hold me baby, squeeze me daddy..please never break my heart…cause you’re the one I want beside me when the day is done!”
Margolin’s slide work returns in “Red Hot Kisses”. “Ever since I kissed you I’ve tried to forget….your red hot kisses….you have red hot kisses but a cold, cold heart.” Both Fiona and Bob seem to regret the hot moment of passion that confounds them both. “I thought you were an angel that I saw in my dreams…Now I’m having nightmares and I’m almost bout to scream.” This train wreck is going to do nothing but end badly for both of them.
A swing beat lends itself to “Big, Bigger, Biggest”. “Big, bigger, biggest…how did you ever fit in them britches?” Her man wheels and deals with the best of them and is just too big for his own good. Moving on to “Rambling Man Blues” we find that Fiona’s love is on the move again. “My man went to rambling…he won’t say what’s on his mind…no matter if I treat him nice and kind…he’s going out in the woods to find what he can find.”
The pace picks up considerably in “Rockabilly on the Radio.” Fiona and Marcia trade leads on this fast paced swing tune. “Come on out tonight, the headlights shining bright….we’ll stop and find a little place to walk….you’ll be playing rockabilly on the radio!”
The CD closes with the ballad, “Homesick Blues.” “I’ll go most anyplace but my heart wants to go back home.” “I got my hat in Kansas City…and my shirt on up the road…hey, but my shoes come from my hometown…hey now, watch them walk me home!”
Lucky 13 is one of the top two female contemporary blues albums I’ve listened to all year and puts Fiona into some elite company when the powers that be decide on the nominees for next year’s Blues Music Awards. This is an impressive album by a female artist who not only plays a mean guitar but shows musical sensibilities way beyond her age. Fiona’s true to her roots, respectful of those blues legends she admires and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’ll be a force to reckon with for a long time to come.
SING OUT – Gary Von Tersch 10/1/2006
Everything sounds like it gelled providentially on Australian blues singer, lyricist and guitarist Fiona Boyes' debut American project for Memphis, Tennessee's Yellow Dog Records. The fair-haired Boyes has had eight albums released Down Under since 1970 and is a regular on the island's club and festival circuit. Here she is joined by an Austin, Texas "A-list" band as well as guests Marcia Ball (who pounds the ivories on both a feverish "Rockabilly On The Radio" and You Gonna Miss Me" while joining Boyes vocally on the lusty "Celebrate The Curves"),ex-Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin and producer Kaz Kazanoff and his always potent Texas Horns.
Margolin especially impresses on a wrenching cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's deep Delta classic "Red Hot Kisses" (where he also shares a sly vocal with Boyes) along with the pneumatic "Good Lord Made You So," where he trades early Chicago blues slide guitar licks with Boyes, while Kazanoff and his Horns add a 1940s Louis Jordan sheen to a rollicking "Big, Bigger, Biggest." The pre-war acoustic blues has always had a special appeal for Boyes and she's at her best on a trio of originals that lean that way. Both the harmonica-embellished "Rambling Man Blues" and a hard driving "Homesick Blues" (with Floyd Domino on piano and Danny Levin's fiddling) along with the spirited "Pigmeat Lover" also showcase Boyes' accomplished guitar playing and a raw, emotionally direct vocal approach a la Memphis Minnie or Bessie Smith. Her aching, lost-love ballad "Stranger In Your Eyes" is also superb. Boyes' facility to move in and out of a variety of blues styles with ease rivals that of a Rory Block or Bonnie Raitt. Hopefully, she'll get the attention her music deserves.
SACRAMENTO BEE – Jim Carnes 8/6/2006
Fiona Boyes may have been born and reared in Australia, but her heart is in America's Mississippi Delta. She plays guitar and growls country blues like few others, no matter where they come from. Boyes began her musical education via the late blues artists Robert Johnson and Memphis Minnie. She's the first woman to win the acoustic division of the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge for emerging blues talent (in 2003) and even had the great Pinetop Perkins pronounce her "the best gal guitar player I heard in more than 35 years." Perkins said, "I ain't never heard a woman finger-pick a guitar like that since Memphis Minnie." On "Lucky 13," Boyes finger-picks and slides and swings through 13 tunes (10 of which she wrote) that cover the gamut of American blues, from Delta to Chicago style, acoustic to electric. She is backed by a full band and special guests "Steady Rollin' " Bob Margolin (Muddy Waters band), Marcia Ball and Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff & the Texas Horns. Among the best cuts: "Chicken Wants Corn," "Stranger in Your Eyes," "Pigmeat Lover" and "High Cotton" -- all of which she wrote.
CADENCE – Jay Collins 11/1/2006
If one is to consider perhaps even one positive byproduct of our continued globalization, it is that musical barriers have been minimized and that “legitimate” musical performances are not solely determined by situs. As for Blues, one may easily look beyond the U.S. for talent, a fact that is proven when one considers Australian guitarist FIONA BOYES. It is not enough that Boyes is an Aussie, but gasp, also an axe-wielding female. Naysayers may turn up their noses, but that would be to their detriment, as Boyes convinces on her debut American recording, LUCKY 13 (Yellow Dog 1353). This isn’t Boyes’ first recording as a leader, having released several records in Australia, though this record demonstrates that she is in league with any current American artist. The performances demonstrate that she’s a damn good guitarist, but also, her gritty, gravelly vocal style is a compelling extra treat. With her core band, The Fortune Tellers, and some help from Austin, Texas’ talent pool (Boyes, g, vcl; Marcia Ball, p, vcl; Bob Margolin, g, vcl; Floyd Domino, p; Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff, harp, ts; Danny Levin, vln, mandolin; Chris Maresh, b; Derek O’Brien, g; Riley Osbourne, org; Mark Rubin, tba; Barry “Frosty” Smith, perc, d; Stan Smith, cl; Randy Zimmerman, tbn; Larry Fulcher, b; Al Gomez, tpt; Joel Guzman, acc; John H.R. Mills, bari s. February 2006, Austin, TX), Boyes tackles electric blues rock (“Chicken Wants Corn”), New Orleans-tinged tonk (“Celebrate The Curves”), good time exploits (“You Gonna Miss Me”), some two-step (“High Cotton”), some pop Jazz (“Big Bigger Biggest”) and acoustic realms (Good Lord Made You So” and the humorous “Pigmeat Lover”). Worth noting is that her lyrics often add a bit of fun, such as on “Chicken Wants Corn” (“I want you baby like a chicken wants corn!”) and “Celebrate The Curves” (“I’m built like a woman’s meant to be built with a bellybutton and boobs” (!)). Boyes isn’t all muscle and verve, though, as she ably proves that her Blues can also be smooth and tender (“Stranger In Your Eyes”). In an age where the Blues community is waiting for another Stevie Ray or even some other savior, Boyes is one to watch. Not only does Boyes have the musical goods, but also, the record is a hell of a lot of fun.
BLUES WAX – Dave Good 9/6/2006
In 1987, Fiona Boyes had an epiphany. Soon after, she left her day job and borrowed a guitar. The crowning result, almost 20 years later, is this: Boyes made history as the first Australian and the first woman to win the solo/duo division of The Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge in Memphis. That was in 2003, by any standard a good year for Boyes. After having won virtually every Blues honor imaginable in Australia, Jazz Review listed her CD Gimme Some Sweet Jelly Roll as one of that year's three best Blues albums. In retrospect, quitting her day job turned out to be a brilliant career move. This year saw the release of Fiona's American debut, Lucky 13 on Yellow Dog Records. It features guest support from Marcia Ball, Bob Margolin, the Texas Horns, and Boyes' own band, the Fortune Tellers. Far too eclectic to be called a pure collection of the Blues, Boyes and producer Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff included 10 of her originals and three covers that cross over into jump, Rockabilly, 1950s Rock 'n' Roll, and Chicago and Texas Blues.
"Chicken Wants Corn" is a guitar strut that immediately sets the tone for the remainder of the CD - "sassy" is a word that comes to mind. Memphis Minnie channels Mae West and sings through a set of pipes that Johnny Winter would admire. Boyes' voice sounds grizzled, like something that was left out on the grill a minute too long. She says she earned that voice in the time-honored tradition: cigarettes and alcohol. "But I got all that out of my system," she says. "I'm a good girl now."
Next, "Celebrate the Curves" introduces a theme that will dominate almost half of the songs on Lucky 13. Horns almost rule this baker's dozen, from the jazzy New Orleans feel of "Curves" to the jump Blues of "Big Bigger Biggest." The remainder of the songs are rhythm- and guitar-based. But Fiona's charismatic fretwork balances all. There is an uncommon forcefulness in her personality on songs like "Good Lord Made You So" and "Red Hot Kisses" that fills in the blanks left by the absence of tubas and saxophones. "It's taken years," says the self-taught guitarist, "before I could attempt that sort of muscular Blues."
And Fiona can stand up against Kazanoff's full-blooded, horn-band production. On "Pigmeat Lover" she yodels and takes an almost Piedmont-style solo. If not an entirely central theme, then her guitar still works out plenty and with much brass and shine on the Carl Perkins-flavored "High Cotton" and "Rockabilly On The Radio" and then again on "Rambling Man Blues." There is plenty of six-string spunk and attitude to go around.
What keeps Lucky 13 from becoming too cute and sinking into the realm of the something-for-everybody record is this: call it the gravitas of Boyes' voice. It is a strong presence, informed by life, her convictions, and by her Blues influences. What is missing from Lucky 13 is a sense of deeper introspection. At times, I want the smile in Fiona's voice to fade away and for that voice to return with less buoyancy, less attitude. I want to hear her words do what her guitar can do, namely, to get down to business and deliver me from the evils of this current world in terms that aren't so damned good-natured.
Then again, Tommy Johnson, one of Boyes' influences, could sing about dark times and never shed that smile in his voice either.
BIG CITY RHYTHM & BLUES – Dirk Wissbaum 11/1/2006
This gal from down under is finally making her way to the Northern Hemisphere with her first American recording, "Lucky 13". She has recorded eight other albums in her homeland of Australia, and built up a mighty following down there also. Recorded in Austin, and produced by Texas Horns legend Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff, the CD's title refers to the 13 tracks here. Many of them seemingly mimic the flapper era of jazz and blues of the Roaring 20's. Her electric guitar easily scratches out the licks in that distorted down home Mississippi style, and her acoustic fingerpicking seems to settle you down on the back porch for a spell.
Fiona was the winner of the 2003 Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge, and has since become a fixture on the blues scene here in the states. She is a 16-year veteran of the business playing with both the Mojos and the Fortune Tellers. Ten out of the 13 songs here are original, as Fiona puts her take on the blues as she knows it. With featured guests like Bob Margolin, Marcia Ball, and the Texas Horns, you know the CD is gonna have some good grooves.
"Celebrate the Curves" stands out with a prohibition era speakeasy sound, literally paying tribute to the great blues singers of the past. Marcia Ball tinkles the keys in proper fashion for that one. A raucous guitar comes out of "You Gonna Miss Me" with Marcia and Bob both joining in. The down home feel of "High Cotton" makes you wonder where this Aussy lass is really from, Melbourne or Mississippi? "Pigmeat Lover" delivers an old timey theme complete with violin and tuba, and Fiona tossing out a yodel here and there. Kaz plays the harp on this one also. "Big, Bigger, Biggest" pays a slight tribute to Louis Jordan, and "Hold Me" holds out for some good R&B with Marcia and Bob again letting it all hang out. The slower spark of "Red Hot Kisses," originally a Lillian McMurray number, has Bob Margolin and Fiona sharing vocals and playing off each other, guitar to guitar, in the minimal style the Delta Blues is known for. The last tune on the CD, "Homesick Blues" is a great end to this recording with Kaz again on harmonica, and a fitting urge to head home.
There are too many musicians on this project to mention besides Kaz, the Texas Horns, and her band members. It all adds up to one good sounding CD. You will just have to pick thos one up and hear for yourself.
N.Y JAZZ & BLUES REVIEW – Peanuts 9/1/2006
An Australian Bonnie Raitt? An outback Memphis Minnie? By the time this review is over, Fiona Boyes could possibly have more tags on her then the clearance rack at a Goodwill store, thanks to Lucky 13, her first American label release after toiling Down Under for at least a decade.
And, much like the fabled Cleveland weather, if you don't like what you are getting, wait three minutes or so because it is going to change. Boyes leaps from style to style, starting with Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff's harp pushing "Chicken Wants Corn" out of the starting gate before Stan Smith's clarinet and Marcia Bell's piano takes "Celebrate The Curves" in a honky tonk direction. "Stranger In Your Eyes" is a mix of jazz and blues as "High Cotton" is an all out revival of sorts. "Pigmeat Lover" visits New Orleans as Boyes then channels the spirit of Jackie Wilson during "Hold Me". Basically you name the form of music, any form, and it is on Lucky 13.
"Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin is Boyes' secret weapon, thought, working his slide magic throughout and giving a heartfelt duet with her on "Red Hot Kisses." She even takes a crack at southern mountain jazz aka rockabilly via "Rockabilly On The Radio."
Lucky 13? Not at all. There is no chance of fate here, just the talent of Fiona Boyes turned loose on the American listening public.
RAMBLES – Jerome Clark 11/4/2006
If "Australian blues singer" doesn't sound like a promising idea to you, you haven't heard Fiona Boyes, and you haven't heard of the Memphis-based Yellow Dog label, which doesn't sign anybody who can't deliver the goods. With Boyes & the Fortunetellers behind the wheel, the delivery truck is as packed as it can get.
Boyes is a terrific guitar player (electric and acoustic) and a tough, sexy, witty vocalist. The Fortune Tellers here are not the ones she left in her native country, but an American equivalent, boasting Muddy Waters-band alumnus and guitarist "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin, with appearances by blues-piano pounder Marcia Ball, Kaz Kazanoff's Texas Horns and more. They will satisfy all of your blues needs.
Let us make one thing clear: this is nothing like another boring blues-rock album. This is gritty stuff, steeped in good part (even when fully electrified) in pre-war sounds of country blues and jug bands, with periodic post-war Chicago moods and rhythms, and even (in "Big Bigger Biggest") some welcome jazz touches. Boyes ventures winningly into other territory with Jerry Miller and Jack Smith's hoppin' "Rockabilly on the Radio."
Boyes, who has written all but two of the 13 cuts, proves herself a formidable in-the-tradition composer who may bring to mind what Memphis Minnie might have sounded like in the early 21st century. It must be stressed that Boyes has so fully soaked in her influences that she is very much her own artist and ultimately sounds only like herself. Still, Minnie would have loved the sassy, salacious "Pigmeat Lover."
Lucky 13, recorded in Austin, is Boyes' first American album. Over the course of a decade and a half, she had already released eight in Australia. At this stage, any rough edges that remain are the ones that are supposed to be there. By any standard, this is one of the most entertaining and inspiring new blues recordings of the year.
POP MATTERS – Jennifer Kelly 11/7/2006
The last female blues guitarist this good may just have been Memphis Minnie.
The rule has always been that if you’re a woman and you want to play the blues, you’d better be a good singer. Fiona Boyes is a fine singer, gritty and soulful and comfortable in many styles, but she is a much better guitar player. In fact, you might have to reach all the way back to Memphis Minnie to find a similarly skillful axe-woman. Or you could forget the whole gender game, because it’s a dead end. Fiona Boyes can play with anyone, male or female, Australian or Delta-born, traditionalist or modern blues interpreter. She’s the real thing.
You don’t have to take my word for that. She’s a winner of the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge, and she’s played at nearly every major blues festival in the U.S., as well as those in her native Australia. She’s also good enough to attract a strong team, too, Bob Margolin (who once played with Muddy Waters) on guitar, pianist Marcia Ball and saxophonist Kaz Kazanoff. It’s a very solid band, led but not overwhelmed by Boyes, and one of the joys of this record is when the supporting players cut loose. Sure, “Red Hot Kisses” showcases Boyes’ eerie slide guitar and sultry voice, but it would be half the song without Margolin’s soft mournful singing and the intricate interplay between their two guitars. And similarly, “Big Bigger Biggest” wouldn’t swing at all without the big band heft of Kazanoff’s Texas Horns or the incendiary piano solo mid-cut.
The songs are quite varied. “Chicken Wants Corn” has the electric swagger of Muddy Waters, while “Stranger in Your Eyes” smoulders with Southern heat, a distaff take on Robert Cray. “Rockabilly on the Radio”, a cut borrowed from Jack Smith and the Rockabilly Planet, is exactly as hip-shakingly rocking as you’d expect, while “Good Lord Makes You So”, slouches and whispers with swampy authenticity. And what can you make of the wonderful “Celebrate My Curves”, written by fellow Aussie blueswoman Lil’ Fi, except that it’s good to be a woman of voracious appetites and damn the consequences.
The centerpiece though is Boyes’ guitar work, which smokes and caresses, insinuates and stomps. From the slow-rocking riffery of “Chicken Wants Corn”, through the very last bend and pull-off on “Homesick Blues”, Boyes makes her guitar talk in an amazing range of dialects, distinct in themselves, but all part of the greater language of blues. Her work is never show-off-y, as is sometimes true of technically adept players, but rather seems to sing. There are notes in “Good Lord Makes You So” that hang in the air like smoke, twisting and evolving even as they fade. It’s a virtuouso display, but one that works in favor of the song.
It’s a man world, truly, but there’s always been room for another great guitar player. So move over boys and watch your language. Fiona Boyes will be staying quite a while.
CD HOTLIST - Rick Anderson 9/1/2006
Australian guitarist and songwriter Fiona Boyes is as thoroughly steeped in country blues as any American currently playing today, as both her impressive guitar picking and joyfully idiomatic compositions clearly demonstrate on this, her debut album. She's joined here by such luminaries as Marcia Ball and Bob Margolin, but no one who listens to "Good Lord Made You So" or "Chicken Wants Corn" will feel any need to check her references further -- this is great, greasy stuff.
THE BLADE – Ken Rossenbaum 8/27/2006
It would be tough to find a style of blues that Fiona Boyes fails to cover on this outstanding sampler of her artistry. The Australian singer/writer/guitarist traces her musical roots deep into prewar country blues, dipping here into styles ranging from old-time Delta, Memphis, Chicago, and New Orleans to horn-accented jump blues, with a touch of rockabilly along the way.
She wrote 10 of the 13 numbers, adding a dash of contemporary lyrics to classic sounds. She cuts loose with a low-down bluesy growl or a sweet sensuality as each song needs.
Additionally, she is an instrumental master at work on almost every guitar solo here, whether it's dazzling acoustic finger-picking or heated electric riffs. A couple are done by her pal, Bob Margolin, who lends a hand with guitar on several tracks. Blues piano magician Marcia Ball and the Texas Horns also help make this eclectic album much more than just another blues package.
The fair-haired Boyes appears on the surface an unlikely candidate to carry on the blues tradition of Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith. Yet Boyes' take on old-style songs like "Pigmeat Lover" and "Celebrate The Curves" evokes the genre's glorious past as well as anyone in recent memory