February 2008

Doug Cox & Salil Bhatt with Ramkumar Mishra - Slide to Freedom
Northern Blues Music MBM0039
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Slide to Freedom is not the first attempt to fuse blues with traditional Indian music. Maybe this album’s success has to do with Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt’s having worked together for more than a year before recording. A more basic explanation would be the players’ high levels of musicianship and dedication to the task.

Cox, a preeminent Canadian Dobroist, is a veteran multi-instrumental performer, recording artist, producer, and teacher. Bhatt, who plays Satvik veena, his own modification of the Indian instrument of the lute family, is tenth generation in a famous lineage -- making music for half a millennium -- and son of the legendary slide player and Grammy winner Padmashree Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, considered one of the world’s greatest musicians by George Harrison and Eric Clapton. The elder Bhatt is a special guest on two tracks, playing his Mohan veena.

Mississippi John Hurt’s "Pay Day" opens the disc, setting down unmistakable blues roots. After a pair of long tracks in the Indian tradition, Blind Willie Johnson’s "Soul of a Man" returns us to traditional blues, with strong Indian components. Cox’s "Beware of the Man" is the third and final standard blues tune out of a total of eight tracks. Cox also wrote much of the original "Indian" music.

Lending cohesion are Mishra’s skilled tabla (drum) playing and the disc’s unaffected, crystal-clear arranging, producing, and engineering that deliver to our ears the guitars’ and veenas’ great many strings with the full range of spirit so many well-trained fingers bring to them.