From the biting electric chords of "Fightin' Hard," which launches guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart's latest funky epistle, Start With the Soul, it's clear that the acoustic heart and soul of the Bay Area is up to something new -- namely, the wall socket. Hart has long been a champion of mutated acoustic blues, name-checking the likes of Charley Patton, Leadbelly, and Taj Mahal among many authentic purveyors along the way. Now Hart's all plugged in.
Of course Hart is never far from the soulfully perfect demolition squad that has served him so well over the course of his two previous acoustic blues albums, Big Mama's Door in 1997 and Territory in 1998. Start With the Soul is built on that wonderfully evocative foundation and is ultimately more in touch with Hart's modern influences. It shouldn't come as any surprise that Hart counts Jimi Hendrix as a musical icon, but it may be slightly unsettling to hear Hart emulate him so fluidly on "Electric Eel." This powerful moment is immediately followed by the funky Los Lobos-like power shuffle "Back to Memphis" and the return-to-form of "Cowboy Boots," further exemplifying Hart's incredible range and depth in an acoustic setting. On an album filled to overflowing with highlights, Hart offers up the marvelous unamplified workout, "A Prophet's Mission," and follows it with the propulsive electric rocker "Cryin' Shame." Hart's in the habit of including at least one old time traditional folk song adorned with the full Youngblood treatment, but this time he expands his usual modus operandi to include a cover of the 1971 soul/pop nugget "Treat Her Like a Lady" from the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose.
With his third release, Hart shows that all of the accolades showered on him since his debut (including enough W.C. Handy nominations in 1997 to tie him with veteran blues guitarist Luther Allison for the year) were absolutely earned. By blending his already well established acoustic side with his blossoming electric facet, Hart has proven that he's no parrot of ancient styles but a living archive of blues licks past, present, and future.
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