Taken literally, melting pots should have little capacity to store or hold anything, yet peer into this particular vessel and the richest of global stews simmers gently, waiting to be stirred into life. Cory Seznec’s first solo effort is a heady concoction.
The ingredients; a Franco-American who splits his time between the States, Ethiopia and Europe, Seznec is also a member of Groanbox and latterly a new venture in Addis Ababa. He creates music that sits somewhere just outside the bluegrass-blues-folk-country-world music time-stream, dipping its toe in all of them, sometimes in the same song, creating whirls and eddies of gloriously natural and earthy traditional music. It really shouldn’t work, but it turns out there’s a place for everything, and on Beauty In The Dirt, everything is in its place.
In this case, everything means African rhythms and percussion overlaid with clawhammer banjo, fingerpicked guitar, upright piano and mouth organ. There’s a freedom of expression born of passion, honesty and a deep knowledge of the disparate styles and substance and how to use them in their appropriate proportions. Beauty In The Dirt is the bastard offspring of a creole-swamp style that Alan Lomax would have loved and which would have graced Robert Crumb’s cartoon archive of American musical origins.
It begins with Southern Bound I, the first of four short, beautiful instrumental travelogues that wind their way in and out of the album tracks like a yellow brick road. The first highlight is Dragon Tree, a folk-blues number with picked guitar, simple piano backing and a great chorus in which Seznec’s voice is elastic and enticing, warm and willful; ‘Hey children let’s go down / Down to the creek get mud on our feet / Hey children let’s go down / And leave the future behind us.’If Blind Willie McTell’s East St Louis Blues evokes gin joints, wailing harmonica and the best of jazz-blues crossovers (think Fats Waller and Robert Johnson), you’re about there. The call and response lyric of Crab On The Line steams along at pace until a quasi-Mediterranean middle-eight stops you in your tracks.
The title track has a wicked guitar line, redolent of Simon’s Graceland, but somehow more authentic; you’re in the middle of an Ethiopian bazaar under cobalt blue skies, sly harmonica riffs and backing vocals offering up their wares, negotiating their way into your heart above a background hubbub of bubbling percussion. Hop On Board is a stately blues; East Virginia a fast-picked banjo tune with stunning piano accompaniment; Sisyphus a dark retort to the Southern Bound instrumentals with a lyric that exposes the core elements of the album; wanderlust, new horizons and finding a place to belong: ‘You know I feel the spirit and I’m so glad / The world can’t do me no harm / But the voices harp on you can’t go on you couldn’t possibly afford the costs of the trip / Yet the voyage belongs to the wanderers of the world who can’t afford not to not fit in.’
The quality never falters and two strong songs towards the end of this 15-track odyssey stand out. Build Me A Weapon is, I think, a not so subtle dig at America’s fascination for guns – ‘Gonna wield me a weapon, protect me and my loved ones / It’s my god given right to blast you to kingdom come’ – wrapped in a sprightly faux-Country twang, and Letter Home a love song for home and siblings carved out of the horrors and inevitability of the Civil War. Southern Bound IV ends in sibilant shakers and dwindling percussive beats and ushers out an album where no song lets the side down; all killer, as they say.
You could be excused for not knowing where you are by the time the record finishes, but this is so good and the joins between styles so seamless that it’s best to remember that it’s the journey, not the destination that matters. Excellent.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Build Me A Weapon
Beauty in the Dirt is Out Now
Order via Bandcamp
Cory and his band are touring Canada during August 2014. Details on his website here: www.coryseznec.com