Matt Baxter and Jake Sampson review April 11, 2013…

MATT BAXTER AND JAKE SAMPSON

HAUNTED

AUBURN SKY RECORDS

SOMEDAY–DUSTY MULE–HAUNTED–JAMIE LYNN–SAME OLD PAIN–SOUL–DON’T IT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD–LITTLE GIRL GONE–TAKE ME BACK HOME–HIGHWAY 54

For “Haunted,” vocalist/bassist Jake Sampson and guitarist Matt Baxter evoke the spirits, power and memories of pre-WWII bluesmen such as Son House and Bukka White on these ten originals, and the results are fairly astounding.  Detroit native Jake Sampson has a voice that sounds like a mix of Taj Mahal, Guy Davis, and John Lee Hooker, and Baxter’s dobro work makes the perfect statement on every cut, every time.

The themes of many of the songs are authentic, too.  Check out the leadoff ode to a lover who finds out that “Someday, your good thing will be gone.”  The antithesis of this is “Little Girl Gone,” where, fellows, if you don’t take care of your homework, somebody else will!  The hardscrabble times of the pre-war Delta are documented in songs like “Dusty Mule,” where, at the end of a long day working the fields, a man seeks solace in “a big-legged woman and a jug of corn likker from Mr. Tompkins’ juke joint!”

There are cuts that find both men struggling with the eternal battle between good and evil, such as the brooding title cut, where Jake is “Haunted by the cold dark night,” and searching for his lost “Soul,” seeing “only hard times ahead.”  Matt’s call-and-response leads add to the anguish in Jake’s plaintive vocals as well.

No doubt Robert Johnson heard songs like these in his head when he went down to the Crossroads, made that infamous deal, and then created the 29 songs that would eventually birth rock and roll.  Matt Baxter and Jake Sampson have captured that lightning-in-a-bottle feel, and “Haunted” is one of the best country-blues duo albums that it has been our pleasure to hear in quite some time.  Great guitar work coupled with gritty, soulfully-heartfelt vocals make this one a sweet ride down thru the Delta, indeed!   Until next time….Sheryl and Don Crow.

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