Muireann Bradley “I Kept These Old Blues”

Tompkins Square Records, 2023

A new voice born from the old blues.

Muireann Bradley “I Kept These Old Blues”, Tompkins Square Records 2023When Bob Dylan released his first album at 20, there was something otherworldly in hearing one so young deliver blues as bleak as Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean‘ and Bukka White’s ‘Fixin’ To Die.

A similar extraterrestrial experience is found listening to Muireann Bradley’s debut album, ‘I Kept These Old Blues.‘ At 17, she exhibits an uncanny ability for finger-picking the blues, a skill she partly attributes to her upbringing in a home steeped in the blues, thanks to her father, and the impact of the pandemic, which fused time, dedication, and her natural talent. With just voice and guitar, and no apparent overdubs, ‘I Kept These Old Blues‘ is a sheer exposition of singular talent. Faithfully delivering a menu of story-rich pre and post-war blues. The production is sparse but spacey, offering a welcoming spotlight for Bradley’s talents.

Candy Man’ is a gentle rendition with swaggering asides. “Talk!” she commands, and her guitar responds, full of colour and expression. Her vocals are soft, reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt’s original. Throughout, her playing has a virtuoso confidence, as seen in the plucked confidence on ‘Police Dog Blues’ or the mix of lightness and sashay on ‘Richland Woman Blues,’ all reflecting Bradley’s deep familiarity with the songs. She draws on the playfulness in the originals, where life’s hard lessons are sweetened with a bowlful of sugar, like Elizabeth Cotten’s ‘Shake Sugaree,’

“Have a little secret, I ain’t gonna tell/ I’m going to heaven in a brown pea shell/ Oh Lordy me, didn’t I shake sugaree?/ Everything I got is done and pawned.

Some songs, well-known from the ’60s folk-blues revivalists like ‘Frankie and Albert’ and ‘Stagolee,’ pose a challenge to shift from the shadows of better-known performances. Reflecting on Bradley’s rendition of ‘Green Rocky Road’ offers a contrast to Van Morrison’s version, a highlight of his recent ‘Moving On Skiffle.’ It’s poignant to reflect on these two blues interpreters at different ends of their careers, drawing similar depth of emotion from this lilting tune. Bradley’s approach is airy and sincere, yet her authenticity shines through, bolstered by undeniable skill and a profound affection for the music.

There’s a purist’s pleasure in hearing these songs plain as they are, as if lifted whole from the soil—cultural artefacts but earthy, utilitarian, stripped to the fundamentals of story and song. Much like Dylan as he blew into New York in the early ’60s, Bradley is on the precipice of something great, her early career built upon the solid rock of blues. Her career, a wide green road open ahead of her.

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About Tom Harding 14 Articles
A writer with a love of all things country, folk, jazz and blues. By night I'm a poet with two published poetry books from Palewell Press, latest available now, "Afternoon Music."
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