Under The Spell
Alligator Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/22/1999
After four previous albums, you'd think that I would have discovered Dave Hole by now.
The Australian slide guitarist has made quite a name for himself along the blues circuit for his style and for his performances (including his unorthodox over-the-neck attack of his slide playing). But for some reason, I just didn't find myself getting all that worked up about Hole.
Now that I've heard his fifth and latest album Under The Spell, I'm convinced that Hole is an underrated talent in the blues world with vocals similar to those of John Mayall. But I'm also resolved in my belief that you can only listen to so much slide guitar in one sitting.
With a solid backing band - keyboardist Bob Patient, rhythm guitarist Michael Vdelli, bassist Roy Daniel and drummer Ric Whittle - Hole could easily pass for one of the products of the Chicago blues scene. If there is even a trace of his Australian accent in his singing, I have yet to hear it come to the forefront. As both a vocalist and slide guitarist, Hole is more than adequate in both categories.
Aw, who am I kidding? On tracks like "Run With Me," "Blues Is The Truth" and "More Love, Less Attitude," Hole shines like a diamond in the rough, his smooth vocals easily merging with his bottleneck slide action. His leads are incredibly clean, something I still am not used to with slide guitar.
But Hole does show that one can have too much of a good thing, as he drags "Bird's Eye Blues" out to the point of being painful. The song itself has a plodding beat that was a mistake from the get-go. Fortunately, this is the only bad track on Under The Spell; the rest of the disc ranges from pleasantly listenable to dance inspiring.
What is toughest about Under The Spell is that hearing nothing but slide guitar leads gets to be a bit tiring to my ears, and my breaking point came around the track "Lost At Sea" (which was an excellent track otherwise). Most slide players I've heard seem to know when it's time to mix regular lead work in place of pure slide action. Maybe if Hole had provided a little more variety of this sort, the disc would have been a little easier to get through.
Still, Under The Spell is a very pleasant disc that is sure to serve as a wake-up call to people like yours truly that the blues doesn't just live in Chicago or the Mississippi Delta. Hole shows how talented of a musician he is, and could well be one of the most unheralded guitarists of his time. But the old saying does ring true: variety is the spice of life. Here's hoping Hole can throw in even just a pinch of that spice the next time.