Every now and then an album comes out that leaves little doubt about where its creators hail from. He Flies, the latest offering from bluesman Kent McDaniel, is a record with deep Illinois roots; a satisfying combination of big city blues and downstate giddy up. It’s perfect music for stuffing your face at Pequod’s or taking a road trip towards whiskey country.
Opening track “Zombies Stink (& Vampires Suck)” is a chuckle-inducing blues romp that ridicules Hollywood’s lack of BBRBRRRAAAAIIIINNNSSSS. McDaniel builds his case by mocking the classic disadvantages of being either kind of undead, while also admonishing the writers and studios behind this endless wave of creature-based content. He cries, “All this sullen sultry undead/bout to drive me out of my head,” and then emphasizes his exasperation with a big, swaggery guitar solo.
On “May You Still Believe,” his band shifts tone. McDaniel begins with a twangy ripple of acoustic guitar. Percussionist Andrew MacCrimmon follows him in, building up to a fluttering beat that winds its way throughout the rest of the song. John Temmerman (of the John Temmerman Quartet) comes in about half way through with a sax solo that rolls and rises over chugging guitar and a tip toe of hi-hat.
Lyrically it’s almost a benediction, a prayer from a battered idealist to an entire generation whose sense of hope is being challenged on a daily basis. It’s also a nice counterpart to title track “He Flies,” wherein McDaniel delights in daydreaming about the carefree existence of a little bird he’s spotted on a telephone wire. Alpha Stewart handles the percussion here, infusing this summery little ditty with a burst of playfulness.
The band assembled on He Flies touches on sounds from across the state, coming off like naturals at each stop. “Over Yonder & Round the Bend” would feel right at any barn dance or honkey tonk. The boom of “Big Jim” could be the last thing you hear while tossing back a 4am shot at Kingston Mines. McDaniel plays the old standard “Corrina, Corrina” like he learned it growing up on a farm; twinkling, honeyed, twangy and sweet. He follows that with the solemn “May Third,” a classic rock ballad that would sound at home on an album from nearly any decade since the ’50s. It’s the sound of the sun setting on your time at a particular place. The sound of looking back and reminding yourself why you’d hung around before you hit the road.
The album closes with “Since Time Began,” a minimal, glistening love song that burns out slowly. It’s a great way to come down from a record that by its conclusion feels like a journey. He Flies is a rock and roll Midwest road trip, and it’s one I’d take again.
Kent McDaniel’s He Flies is available on CD at CD Baby and digitally on Bandcamp, Amazon, Google Play and iTunes.