“I believe early blues is the DNA of American music. But its source is elusive: when blues was first widely recorded in the 1920s it was based on older music and stories going back generations. The music that sailed across the Atlantic on slave ships flowered into a collective cultural memory for African-Americans.”
So reads the press material at celebrated acoustic bluesman Peter Lang’s Web site. It’s in promotion of his April release Testament, which “represents Peter’s 50-year love affair with what he calls ‘the DNA of American music.’” Guitarist-singer Lang acknowledges having been inspired by the likes of Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, Blind Rev. Gary Davis, and Mississippi John Hurt as the principal influences on his dizzying finger-picking.
Certainly, Peter Lang is an authority. Aside from co-authoring 20th Century Masters of Finger-Style Guitar, he’s enjoyed a vastly accomplished career. A Grammy nominee and multiple Minnesota Music Award winner, Lang was discovered in 1972 by legendary guitarist John Fahey. (Fahey launched the careers of, among other notables, Leo Kottke and Bola Seta.) Lang has recorded with Fahey, Kottke, Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, the immortal Chet Atkins, the legendary Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and a lot more.
Testament is kind of a PBS special for CD. You won’t be knocked out of your socks, but you won’t be bored to tears either.
Accordingly, Testament is kind of a PBS special for CD. You get 13 very well-played examples of old-style blues. (Though there are no credits on the album, so unless you’re well-versed, you have no idea who wrote what.) You won’t be knocked out of your socks, but you won’t be bored to tears either.
Peter Lang is a fine technician. His playing is clear, about as clean as playing gets—and one thing his singing does is cold bust Hot Tuna’s Jorma Kaukonen—who claims to not have any vocal influence, but says that he simply sings in a way that comes out naturally. You can hear in, for example, “Brownsville Road,” “Colored Aristocracy,” and “I’m Satisfied” that he obviously came across and apes a singing style the old pickers used to use.
Ultimately, if you enjoy that old, back-porch school of the blues, recordings do come a lot worse than Peter Lang’s Testament.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet.