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Mare Edstrom - Mare’s Blues

Spiritone Records

14 tracks/57:18

This collection gathers tracks from three solo releases by Mare Edstrom, a singer and keyboard player from Wisconsin who has an extensive background, including classical training in college while at the same time playing in local rock bands. Edstrom possesses a strong voice that can float over a quiet arrangement or deliver a powerful statement backed by a hard-charging band. Her classical training is evident as Mare easily slides throughout her vocal register, each note delivered cleanly and perfectly executed.

There are five tracks culled from Inside the Blues, a 2004 release. Jimmy Roger’s “That’s Alright” makes a great opening cut as Edstrom belts out the lyrics over a driving rhythm sparked by some fine harmonica playing from Steve Cohen. The following track shifts the instrumental focus to Kenn Fox on guitar and Randy Green contributes on organ on a T-Bone Walker tune, “Treat Me So Low Down”. Edstrom’s pushes her voice hard in the upper register but stops just short being too strident. “Statesboro Blues” alternates between low-key passages with sparkling vocal work from Edstrom and amped-up band sections featuring Fox on slide guitar. “Cherry Wine” is a brief rocker with Edstrom on piano.

Edstrom’s next release, Shake ’Em on Down, came out in 2006. She delivers a dark, stirring rendition of Blind Willie McTell’s “Broke Down Engine” while “Bring it Back Home” reworks Barbecue Bob’s tune into a Jimmy Reed-style piece complete with loping rhythm and more of Cohen’s excellent harp playing. “Pitch a Boogie Woogie” is bogged down by the backing chorus, which also appears on “Walkin” Blues”. The collective weight of the extra singers tends to bury Edstrom’s work. Fox lays down a strong slide guitar part on the latter track and does his best work on “Trouble Blues”, from the pen of Scrapper Blackwell. Edstrom proves that she has the chops to deliver a convincing performance on a slower blues piece.

The remaining four cuts were part of the 2007 release, Sugar Sweet. One highlight from this group is “Big Road Blues”, with Fox on acoustic guitar and Dave Finley on fretless bass guitar. Edstrom’s voice rings out true and clear, yet retains an edge in her phrasing that highlights the alternating feelings of hope and resignation in the lyrics. Ma Rainey’s “Travelin’ Blues” adopts a n old-time jazz feel with Jon Peik on banjo and Cohen shining again on the harp. “Breakfast in Bed” is a Fox original with Edstrom taking on a tougher tone. The collection closes with “Fixin’ to Die”. Edstrom opens with an acappella section before Fox adds a menacing guitar line. The track steadily builds in intensity as the rhythm section and backing chorus join in . Edstrom closes the song with another brief solo voice passage.

One oddity of this release is that the packaging has three photos of Edstrom with a guitar in hand, yet she confines her playing to piano and organ on the disc. Otherwise, this collection highlights her vocal talent in a variety of settings. Fox, in the roles of producer and arranger, updates the approach to this batch of mostly well-known blues tunes and provides Edstrom with a challenging musical framework for her lustrous voice. She is a singer worth a listen..

Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL

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