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C.W. Stoneking Jungle Blues Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

You’re happy to suspend disbelief, and be carried away by his storytelling.

Jon Lusk 2010

Much pop music is fake, but what distinguishes a good fake from a bad one? Something you might mistake for the ‘real’ thing? Or maybe something you know perfectly well isn’t real, but is thoroughly entertaining nonetheless? C.W. Stoneking’s ‘hokum’ creations somehow fall intriguingly between the best of both fake worlds on his second album, Jungle Blues.

In the course of this well formed 40 minutes – which, oddly, recalls the not-so-distant era of 33 rpm – C.W. Stoneking, a.k.a… no, that is his real name… evokes the ghost of yodelling cowboy Jimmie Rodgers, a couple of calypsonians and various early 20th century bluesmen. He also gets lost in elaborately contrived Dixieland jazz fantasies, with the help of his highly accomplished Primitive Horn Orchestra.

The fact that he’s a white Australian – albeit the son of an American couple – may raise a few eyebrows, especially when he adopts caricatured Caribbean and African-American accents. Roots music purists might well baulk at his theatrical plunderings, too, but how many actors get accused of not being ‘authentic’? It’s all played and sung with such panache and a real feel for the genres he so obviously adores, that you’re happy to suspend disbelief, and be carried away by his taller-than-thou storytelling.

One of the most compelling examples is Jungle Lullaby. As the woozy brass section lurches and sways, C.W. (Christopher William) croaks out a lurid, tropical tale featuring "birds eatin’ spiders as big my fist", while drummer Jim White (of Dirty Three fame) conjures suggestive scuttling sounds and unsettling boom-boom-boom effects on his kick drum.

Although the production superficially evokes the grainy sound patina of vintage 78 rpm recordings, a closer listen reveals plenty of unlikely and often comical details, like the parrot that squawks sleepily on the title-track. Jailhouse Blues finds C.W. all alone with his guitar, bemoaning his fate ("Lock on de door, I broke de law"), while on Housebound Blues, his wife Kirsty Frazer rages against gender inequality, offering a sly reminder that this is very much a modern recording. And if that isn’t enough to break the artfully woven spell, Stoneking rounds things off with The Greatest Liar, a hilarious spoken-word piece of rambling nonsense. Pure hokum, no less.

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