Newcomer Kevin Selfe, until now little known outside his native Virginia (he's from Roanoke) and his adopted Portland, shows a great deal of promise on Long Walk Home, his Delta Groove debut.
An all-original collection, Selfe's compositions are primarily founded on the sturdy building blocks of the blues. From the wryly clever, easy-going backward-shuffle of "Duct Tape On My Soul" to the shivery minor-key anguish of "Dancing Girl," from the T-Bone-tasty "Moving Day Blues" to the frenzied slide-driven boogie of "Put Me Back In Jail," Selfe manages to mix and match various styles while maintaining a distinctive sound.
Selfe isn't a particularly strong singer but handles himself capably enough. His guitar work avoids excess but he can certainly tear up a fretboard with the requisite ferocity as required, and his songwriting is generally quite strong. The loping "Mama Didn't Raise No Fool" rides an irresistibly catchy hook, and both the jazzy, jumping "Walking Funny" and the sardonic, stop-time "Second Box On The Left" affirm his way with words as well as bright and brassy arrangements.
There are only a couple of weaker moments - the swamp-rock of "Midnight Creeper" (at over seven minutes, the disc's longest track, alas) is appropriately atmospheric but Selfe lacks the requisite menace to be entirely convincing - he just doesn't sound dangerous, though his slide guitar is nice and nasty. And "The Blues Is My Home," a solo acoustic outing, comes across as self-indulgent rather than soul-baring artistry. (One can argue that the rather breezy "Too Much Voodoo" seems a bit out of place on the playlist, but it features fine playing and one of Selfe's strongest and grittiest vocals).
As with most Delta Groove releases, the list of participants is lengthy and includes a handful of heavy-hitters. The great Jimi Bott anchors everything on drums, Mitch Kashmar contributes harmonica and a co-lead vocal, and both Doug James and Gene Taylor lend a hand on sax and piano respectively.
The sheer diversity on display shows Selfe clearly knows his blues, but he's not confined or restricted by tradition. He understands the tension and resolution that give the genre such power, whether he's leading with delicate and immaculately articulated single-note leads, shivery acoustic or electric slide, or reverb-rich tones reminiscent of Magic Sam - he truly can, and does, do it all.
There's room to grow, to be sure - Selfe's vocals could use a bit more seasoning, and time will no doubt filter out callower compositions like "Midnight Creeper." All in all, though, Long Walk Home is impressive indeed for a first outing. Kevin Selfe is definitely one to watch!