I can clearly remember the first time I clapped eyes on Steve Wold. I was watching Jools Holland’s Hootenanny when the main man introduced a guy sat on a chair, wearing dungarees, with a box at his feet and a guitar on his lap that looked like he had picked it up out of somebody’s rubbish on his way to the show. Then he started to play ‘Dog House Boogie’. It was magnificent.
It also launched Wold into relative stardom. He played the blues with tremendous grit, while also doing a fine line in lovelorn ballads. His UK shows usually sell-out, my efforts to get to his Cardiff show were frustrated, and his is a winning mix. However, when you are seven albums in there is a real danger of going stale. The formula has not altered a jot, but Wold and collaborator in chief Dan Magnusson’s thrilling and slightly unhinged energy manages to make up for that on Sonic Soul Surfer.
For the gruff declaration of going psychedelic on opener ‘Roy’s Gang’, there is little danger of this being Steve’s version of Sgt Peppers, but as a statement of intent it fairly bolts out the gate and ranks with his best work. The riff recalls John Lee Hooker’s one-chord boogie but also has a dazzling array of off the chart fills and solos played with an abandon more akin to Jack White or Dan Auerbach than a man in his 70s.
The title track whistles along with a similar demented energy and in microcosm it sums up why Wold has been able to do this over several albums without getting completely panned for sticking to the same formula. It comes down to the simple fact that there are few things as satisfying as greasy guitar licks and driving blues rhythms. It gets your head nodding, foot tapping and puts a smile on your face.
It’s not deep but this music is fun, fun to make and fun to listen. Who cares about expanding your sound when three strings and some drums can do the trick on their own? Some of the ballads struggle by comparison, ‘In Peaceful Dreams’ and ‘Your Name’ feel like a bit of a drag, although ‘Right on Time’ is a lovely, breezy number that almost makes up for it.
But the slower numbers end up being periods where you are waiting for Wold and Magnusson to get back to unleashing their elemental blues force. It is a pity, but then the man himself is unlikely to care about drawing in new fans at this stage. However, if you already love Seasick Steve, this is a fine addition to your collection.
Words: Andrew Gwilym