Michael Packer review…October 24, 2013…

MICHAEL PACKER

I AM THE BLUES: MY STORY

IRIS MUSIC GROUP  IMG RECORDS 986

MR. PACKER (NARRATION AND VOCAL)–MY FAMILY (NARRATION)–UNCLE AL–EARLY YEARS– PAPA NEBO (NARRATION)–BAD TIME JACKSON–SAN FRANCISCO BLUES (NARRATION)–I CAN’T KEEP FROM CRYING–FREE BEER (NARRATION)–I’M IN LOVE–BOB DYLAN AND ME (NARRATION)–RIVER OF WINE–THE LOVE OF MY LIFE (NARRATION)–LOVE OF A WOMAN–CHRISTMAS ON THE BOWERY (NARRATION and VOCAL)–THIS TRAIN–SEE THAT MY GRAVE IS KEPT CLEAN

Anyone who doubts how an upstate-New York-born, self-taught guitar-playing white boy like Michael Packer can sing the blues only needs to give a listen to his latest CD, “I Am The Blues;  My Story” to see what he has survived.  Over the course of this hour or so of narration and music, Michael explores several musical genres’ in giving the listener an overview of a life that makes one wonder just how he’s still alive.  He’s played with Honeyboy Edwards  and Nick Gravenites among many others, and counts Dylan and Paul Butterfield as friends.  He’s also recorded for RCA and for Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic.   Sadly, he’s made a few friends he’s not so proud of, namely drugs and alcohol, which also played a major role in his life.

He starts the set with a brief description of his family, stating that perhaps his darker side could be traced back to the 1874 arrest of his “Uncle Al” Packer, who was originally sentenced to death for murder and cannibalism, only to have the conviction reversed thru the actions of the “Denver Post” newspaper, who wanted Al as part of a traveling circus.   Michael plays this tribute to Al in a somber, acoustic way.

Michael is a self-proclaimed “product of the Sixties” with his aforementioned penchant for getting high.  Musically, he was influenced by Dylan, Thelonius Monk, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, among others, and formed his band Papa Nebo at age 19.  “Bad Time Jackson” finds Michael’s vocal reminiscent of Dylan, also utilizing piano and violin.

Michael’s addictions continued to mount, and he relocated to Frisco in 1972, and the song “I Can’t Keep From Crying” has that psychedelic, West Coast vibe running thru it.  A return to NYC in 1974 led to the formation of the group called Free Beer, and “I’m In Love” features harp and a backing chorus that is a fine example of mid-Seventies blues-rock.  A meeting with the great Dylan resulted in the predominantly-acoustic “River Of Wine,” again sung in Dylan’s folkish style.

Michael met the love of his life in New York, but his addictions eventually caused him to lose her.  She came back briefly after he detoxed, but she realized she could not change him after his habits continued to resurface.  That story plays out in the electrified folk-rock musings of “Love Of a Woman,” which “brought me down and out.”

Michael closes the narrative portion of the set by recounting his “Christmas In The Bowery,” done in a sparsely-arranged horn-and-piano-driven slow blues.  His eight months in Riker’s Island is ‘highlighted,” if you will, by his leading of the prison band in a rousing rendition of “Walking The Dog.”  The set proper closes with the uplifting “This Train,” which shows the triumph of Michael’s spirit over adversity, and an acoustic slide rendition of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

Does Michael Packer have a right to sing the blues?  You’re damn right he does–he’s paid his dues with a loan shark’s interest tacked on, and “I Am The Blues” says it all!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don crow.

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