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Gary von Tersch
Sing Out!
Off the Beaten Track
Vol. 46 No. 3, Fall 2002 

more reviews of Stuck On The Way Back
Carrying on in the invigorating tradition of his friend and mentor Otis Taylor, teenage guitar prodigy Jacobs-Strain surfaces with one of the most powerful blues releases of the year.

Born in New Haven, Connecticut but raised in Eugene, Oregon, Jacobs-Strain was performing locally and had his own slot on the youth stage at the Oregon Country Fair in 1994, aged eleven. After hearing Bob Brozman at the W.O.W. Hall in 1996, Jacobs-Strain added bottleneck slide to his repertoire and three years later became the Port Townsend Country Blues Workshop's youngest-ever faculty member, teaching blues slide guitar.

Recently he's been woodshedding with Brozman, John Renbourn and Woody Mann, while developing a fascination with the indigenous music of the Middle East, India and Africa; texturally present here in the kora, muted electronic tamboura, mbira, cajon and djembo accompaniment by talented percussionist Peter Joseph Burtt.

My favorites are the slide guitar transfused selections. A chilling cover of the chain-gang chestnut "
Linin' Track," a stark, pulse-racing take-off-on R. L. Burnside's woeful tale of "Poor Black Mattie" and an eight-minute, inspired medley of a pair of traditional tunes ("Poor Boy" and "Nobody's Fault") are all totally unabridged examples of Jacobs-Strain's already individualistic approach. His style is reminiscent of the late John Fahey's Takoma-era heyday. Near screaming, always-edgy vocals add to the excitement.

Socio-political originals "Dark Horse Blues" and the saga of a rape victim, "Black And Blue," reveal a maturity that belies his age and add to the unique musical identity he's already conjured.

A pair of rather brief instrumentals, "
Sidewalk Rag" (dedicated to the memory of songster John Jackson) and a sprightly "Old Man Dancing," barely hint at Jacobs-Strains' string-humming, fingerpicking talent. As he awaringly puts it: "I'm stuck on the way back-to and from-the old blues." Along with controversial label-mate Otis Taylor, this is the future of the blues.

"His style is reminiscent of the late John Fahey's Takoma-era heyday."