ARTIST: Little Axe
TITLE: London Blues
LABEL: Echo Beach
Little Axe (aka Skip McDonald, aka Bernard Alexander) was part of two of the 20th century’s most influential studio bands: the unnamed house band that backed many of rap’s early hits on Sugar Hill Records, and Tackhead, who provided the industrial soundtrack for Adrian Sherwood projects like Mark Stewart’s Maffia, African Head Charge and New Age Steppers. Since 1993 he’s been recording and performing as Little Axe – blues is the source material here, but it’s processed through Sherwood’s dub-meets-trip-hop filter. The end result, at its best, is spine-tingling in the same way that vintage blues sides can be. This is the eighth Little Axe studio album, and it’s one of the best to date. McDonald’s team is intact: Sherwood is at the controls, Stewart (ex-Pop Group) co-wrote five of the songs, and Doug Wimbish and Keith LeBlanc (colleagues since the Sugar Hill days) hold down the rhythm section. The title track (2) is a tidy synopsis of the Little Axe sound; on 3 McDonald perfectly nails the B.B. King guitar sound; 5 is slide guitar meets trip-hop; 8 adds a little post-disco boogie to the mix; and 4 is the best of all, reaching that at-the-crossroads chill.
TOP TRACKS: 2 3 4 5 8
ALSO RECOMMENDED: 1 6 7 9 10 11 12 13
Bill Lupoletti is world music director at WRIR 97.3 FM and wrir.org in Richmond, Virginia, where he hosts the Global A Go-Go radio program on Wednesdays at 3 PM and writes the globalagogo.com world music blog.