On his solo debut, Built to Spill, frontman Doug Martsch drops the kaleidoscopic indie guitar textures that have been his band’s hallmark in favor of bringing the blues back to its original home of … Boise?
Yes the pride of the remote Idaho rock scene is going back to the Delta with Now You Know, a collection acoustic blues songs built around Martsch’s new found love of slide guitar. Taking a cue from the likes of Blind Willie Johnson and Mississippi Fred McDowell, Martsch manages to put together a record of deceptively simple blues tunes that if nothing else steers clear of being overly imitative or condescending.
We always knew Martsch was a rarely talented musician, but the relentlessly inventive tones and angular melodies that defined Built to Spill’s best work on ’94s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love and ’97s Perfect From Now On sometimes obscured just how good he can be. On “Window” and the appropriately titled “Instrumental” Martsch delivers easily some of the most beautiful and unadorned licks of his career, especially when matched with the subtle string work that underpins parts of the record.
As always, Martsch’s Neil Young-like whine is bit jarring at first, but begins to slowly grow on the listener. His lyrics also follow his playing, moving towards more straightforward material as opposed to more complex and intricate stories made classics like “Twin Falls” and “Fling.”
The only real problem with disc? So much slide gets old kinda quick. Since Jack White has made blues influenced rock once again fashionable, there is bound to be a wave of crappy white boys trying to play the blues, instead of causing them. Martsch is absolved of those charges, but this record comes across more as a little to similar sounding filler, a way to buy time in between Built to Spill releases.
Anyways he’ll never be a real bluesman until he gets a cool blues name. My votes are going to either Blind Potato Martsch or Little Douglas Marsh.