Carolyn Wonderland TEMPTING FATE

Carolyn Wonderland
Tempting Fate
Alligator Records

Primo Down Home Honky Tonky Texas Fried Country Blues

While the famed Alligator Records are primarily; and rightly know for bringing Blues Music; old new and futuristic to the world; who knew they had a love of down home Honky Tonky Texas Fried Country Blues too?
Well; as part of their 50th Anniversary releases that are coming at us like a Gatling Gun; that’s exactly what we have here.
I’ll get this bit out of the way early on; the delectably named Ms Wonderland was John Mayall’s lead guitarist for the last three years; and he’s got a reasonable reputation for finding such players over the last 60 years or more hasn’t he?
Then throw into the mix that Dave Alvin produced this album ……. what more do you need to know before parting with your hard earned cash?
Well; even without that pedigree; Carolyn Wonderland is a Star in her own stratosphere even without those two; judging by these belters; both fast and slow too.
WOAH ….. WOAH and thrice WOAH!
The crazed guitar opening of Fragile Peace and Certain War was more than enough for me to pre-judge what was to follow; and I was 100% correct; fast, furious and fluently expressive; Carolyn grabs you by the throat on this multi-layered Social Commentary; and doesn’t let go until you submit to her musical charms ….. and I like it that way.
Track #2 is very much the cornerstone, with gnarly guitars, pugnacious bass and drums and piano playing that makes Jerry Lee sound like Liberace; all of which are secondary as Carolyn blasts out her theme tune; Texas Girl and Her Boots …… you go girl; nobody here’s gonna stop you!
If you’ve survived this far; and not everyone will; you will already be checking Tour Dates and ordering merch.
As we delve deeper into the album; Ms Wonderland sounds like a heady mix of Janis, Maggie Bell and Rosetta Sharp on The Laws Must Change and the fearsome Broken Hearted Blues; but then goes all Blues Diva in the mould of Sharron Jones fronting Little Feat on Loser and Fortunate Few; where Dave Alvin’s influence certainly appears to come to the fore.
That’s probably true of the Tex-Mex waltzes Honey Bee and Crack in the Wall too; but reading Carolyn’s bio I think this are probably her favourite songs here; but the way she rearranges Bobby Dylan’s It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (which features Jimmie Dale Gilmore btw); shows what impeccable taste she has and how adaptable Dylan’s songs always were.
It’s fair to say, after two weeks of intermittent plays; this album ain’t gonna be played at many middle class hipster dinner parties …… this is for the dodgy stereo on your rust bucket and/or the live circuit, which will primarily be sweaty clubs and Friday nights somewhere you’re loved ones still worry that you’re inhabiting; at your age.
While I’ve concentrated on Carolyn’s singing style; which I’m more than happy promoting; it’s obviously her guitar playing that has brought her to prominence over the years; and here it simply just doesn’t get any better or more fluid than on Mayall’s The Laws Must Change; but there are two other tracks vying for my Favourite Song accolade; the album finale; her heart wrenching version of the Grateful Dead’s Loser features some stunningly understated guitar playing that every legend in the genre would be proud of; but Carolyn seems to do it so effortlessly under a deep and insightful Power-Ballad that will send the hairs on the back of your neck; standing on end the first time you hear it.
The other; and song that just about shaves the Award is the Honky Tonky piano led Fortunate Few, which shows not just how dextrous she is as a musician; but when she hits them notes on the chorus; it’s fair to say they stay hit and some of them have little bluebirds flying around them at times.
Although Carolyn Wonderland has been around for a very long time; playing in Houston aged 15 then cutting 5 locally released albums between ’93 and ’97; it was her friend Doug Sahm who persuaded her to move to Austin in 1999; and that’s where her story really begins and shows no signs of ending any time soon; but now as a Headline act rather than a ‘guitar for hire.’

Released October 8th 2021


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