Canadian folksingers Cat Clyde and Jeremie Albino first kicked around the idea of making an album together in 2019, but career commitments kept them from doing more than recording a rendition of Blind Willie McTell’s “You Was Born to Die.” The world soon hit the pause button due to the pandemic, of course, and they – like so many of us – suddenly had nothing but time on their hands, giving them a chance to bring their idea to fruition. Clyde notes on their Bandcamp page that “as a musician you travel around a lot and meet a lot of people, but when you meet someone that has a hunger for the same type of musical food, it’s really special.” The result, the nine-track Blue Blue Blue, is rapturously ramshackle, conjuring no less than Ralph Peer’s original Bristol sessions with the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. About the only thing missing is the surface sound of a 78 rpm record. Yet, make no mistake: The echoes of the past don’t drown out the music. If anything, they serve to amplify Clyde’s and Albino’s shared affinity for folk music and the blues.
The set opens with that Blind Willie McTell cover, which is recast as a duet and features a slightly tweaked title and lyrics. Clyde has a voice for and of the ages, akin to Sara Carter’s, with it ranging from bluesy to gritty to sweet, while Albino possesses the range of a young Bob Dylan, who was a much better singer than he’s given credit for. It’s quite amazing, really, when their voices blend together.
“Been Worryin’,” a joint composition, follows. Albino brought the unfinished song to Clyde, who helped flesh out the lyrics about the realities of life for all but the one percent: “Well all I know is that life can be a grind/Sometimes you gotta give it time.” The other original song, Clyde’s “Tried and Cried,” could well have been written before amplified sound was a thing. It aches, quakes and resonates with emotion while relating a lament about a lover who walked out. It also spins a hard-won truth about life: “when you walk away from unfinished things they turn into regret.”
Their rendition of “Hello Stranger,” the much-covered Carter Family song, finds the song’s inherent power buttressed by the blending of Clyde’s and Albino’s voices. They capture and convey the heart of the lyrics, which share a man’s lament as he’s on his way to prison. The same’s true for the other covers – they invest themselves in the lyrics, living them instead of singing them. A great case in point: “What Am I Living for,” which Chuck Willis took to the top of the R&B charts (and to No. 9 on the pop charts) in 1958.
We live in an era when many music fans embrace the accoutrements of the past by way of “vinyls” and even cassettes (a resurgence that, try as I might, I still can’t get my head around), while simultaneously turning their ears away from anything that sounds even a little dated. They can’t or won’t listen beyond the mono sound and crackly surface noise of old recordings and, as a result, miss out on many insights about life, love and more. Certain things, after all, have remained constant since the dawn of recorded history – and lessons can and should be drawn from both the successes and failures. On Blue Blue Blue, Cat Clyde and Jeremie Albino dig into the past and unearth truths that add context to the present and future.
More importantly than all that, however, is this: It’s just damn good record. I highly recommend it.
The track list: