Blue Drue Webber’s The Blues Stay at Home
bluedruewebber.com

By Ken Shimamoto

I first heard Drue Webber’s name a decade ago. Although the red-headed bluesman was barely old enough to vote back then, you’d still hear his name mentioned in the same breath as cats like Rollo Smith, “Sugar” Dave Millsap (ex-Delbert McClinton sideman who now packs ‘em in at upscale locations like Central Market, the Bass Hall’s McDavid Room, and Ovations restaurant), and Will “Smokey” Logg (guitar-slinging journo who bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Downey, Jr.). In the oh-oh’s, Drue joined Doyle Bramhall’s band, and he played on the drummer-singer-SRV songwriter’s 2003 Fitchburg Street CD (FYI, that’s Drue in the pics of Doyle’s band on the wall at Kincaid’s Hamburgers). He told the Startlegram a few weeks ago that he wants to reach out to De Yoof with a White Stripes-like blues-rock band, and he’s made a few guest appearances at the Wreck Room on Lee and Carl’s Invitational Jam nights.

Drue’s also played solo sets on the patio at fonky Fred’s. It’s the flavor of those sparse, simple performances, featuring just Drue’s unaccompanied voice and guitar, that’s captured on his new CD, The Blues Stay at Home. Drue plays a style that originated in the Mississippi Delta with venerable masters like Robert Johnson, Bukka White, and Son House, and was carried upriver to Chicago in the ‘40s by slightly younger men like Muddy Waters, Elmore James, and Robert Nighthawk. It’s characterized by finger-picked, open-tuned guitar, with the thumb playing restless bass figures that contrast with the slithering, singing sound of a metal slide whanging against the strings. Drue employs an electric guitar with the harmonic-rich, saturated sound of a cheap little amplifier being pushed to the limits of its capacity to cut through the noise of a rowdy crowd in a juke joint. As a singer, Webber’s got strong pipes, coupled with the wisdom not to try mimicking a wizened Delta bluesman’s inflections in the manner of earnest but misguided white blues imitators of yore.

The material on The Blues Stay at Home is heavy on old reliables from the song bags of Delta daddies like Muddy, Black Ace, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Joe Williams, Robert Johnson, Jimmy Reed, and St. Louis Jimmy Oden. While it’s all rendered in the grand old style, the unremittingly lugubrious tempos might tire some listeners out after a few songs. Among the Webber originals included here, “Young and Able” is, for all intents, a rewrite of Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee;” much better are the John Faheyesque acoustic instrumentals “Lovin’ Mind” and “It Was the Last Time.”

I’m reminded of a set I saw Corey Harris play once, opening for Taj Mahal at the Caravan of Dreams around the time Drue was first making a name for himself. Harris played the Delta blues, alright, but in a way that reminded you that this stuff started out as social music – something to party and dance to, not some folkloric artifact; a way of transforming sorrow at the hardness of the world into great joy, the way the human heart at its most resilient is wont to. Webber’s technical mastery of the form, as demonstrated on The Blues Stay at Home, is undeniably impressive. If he truly intends to make this music appeal to people his own age, though – to really sell it to kids who think Jack ‘n’ Meg wrote “Death Letter” -- his next challenge is to transcend that form the way his models did. I’m betting he’s got it in him. And I’d like to see him share a stage with Darrin Kobetich sometime.

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