December 1, 2008

Blues Revue


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Blues Revue

December 2008

Review of Grace & Grit

David Freeland

Philadelphia based Deb Callahan possesses an instinctive feel for the blues, as evidenced by the fine performances on her latest disc. As a songwriter, Callahan’s gift lies in bringing fresh perspectives to classic lyrical themes. Vocally she understand her strengths – a pure, resonant tone and expressive phrasing and employs them to great effect. She also stands as a first rate song interpreter.

“I’m just the working poor,” sings Callahan on the album’s excellent opener, “Food on The Table,”. She embodies the role of an abandoned wife struggling to provide for her children – a smart revision of the “male head of household” paradigm common in blues narratives. The song’s lyrics reflect the tough situations many 21st century women face, with excellent instrumental work by Allen James on guitar and Tom Walling on drums. “Get it Right” is an optimistic plea from someone who’s always been on the losing end:”Before I lay down and die/I’m gonna get it one time/Right in the eye.”

Midway through the disc, Callahan begins to lose focus. “Guilty” runs a bit long and feels overly familiar while “Carry Me” employs the all-too-common theme of being cleansed by the water. Likewise the “can’t sleep a wink” cliche of “Insomniac Blues” becomes repetitive. Fortunately the album picks up again for its final numbers. The strutting “Happy Hour Girl” points to Callahan’s affection for jazz while adding a layer of ironic darkness that contradicts the title. “She’s got a ripped-up stocking/Too Much lipstick on, “Callahan sings, before describing how her character “stumbles out of the bar at the first light of dawn.” The specificity of the lyrics makes them soar. In the end Grace & Grit reveals Callahan as an astute performer who deserves wider recognition.