In 1975, guitarist Steve Hackett became the first member of Genesis to release a solo album when he issued Voyage Of The Acolyte. Hackett enjoyed the freedom he had when writing and recording his own album. He began to be frustrated after returning to the group's more democratic approach to songwriting. His frustration increased in December 1976 as Genesis prepared to release Wind & Wuthering (1977). Hackett was feeling constricted by his lack of freedom and level of input so he insisted that more of his material should be included on their albums, but was rebuffed. This did lead eventually to his departure on 8 October 1977. From that moment he became a real solo artist. In 1978 he released his second solo album Please Don't Touch-his first after leaving Genesis in 1977. It was his first of many other progressive rock albums. However, he was not only focused on writing compositions in this musical genre. In the 1980s, Hackett released his first classical guitar albums, Bay Of Kings (1983) and Momentum (1988). More followed. He also expressed his love for blues music with the release of Blues With A Feeling in 1994, an album which is probably not owned by many of his fans-including myself. I didn't even hear it myself until it was reissued by Esoteric Recordings in 2016 twenty two years after its official release! They released a remastered version of the album, adding two new bonus tracks that were recorded specifically for this release.
Blues With A Feeling came as a real surprise for a lot of people when the album came out the first time around, but for Steve himself it was just a matter of time because his first musical affinity was for the blues. A lot of people also do not know that his first instrument of choice was the harmonica, not the guitar. This instrument can be heard a lot on this release, next to the many parts performed on the electric guitar. Furthermore he does the lead vocals as well. In general you could say the album in a way was the same as the late Gary Moore did with his blues orientated albums. His album Still Got the Blues (1990) was a major success. Unfortunately this was not the case with Blues With A Feeling. I guess Steve wasn't really waiting to become the next great guitarist in the blues genre. It was just a side step next to his mainly progressive rock orientated albums.
On this album he got help from people who also performed at the time on stage with him and played one year earlier on Guitar Noir (1993), I am referring to people such as Julian Colbeck on keyboards, Hugo Degenhardt on drums, Dave "Taif" Ball and Doug Sinclair on bass. He also used a horn section which named themselves The Kew Horns.
When you're listening to the album you will notice that on most of the compositions the tempo is much slower than on most of his other albums, but it does allow his listeners to see another side to his personality as well as his playing ability. With his returns to his roots he shows he can handle this style of music as good as the style he is most of all known for. Most of the songs are original compositions, and the tunes are well written. Hackett plays a mean harmonica throughout, and shines in particular on a couple of strong instrumental numbers. The same can be said about his strong guitar parts. The melodic playing on his instruments can still be heard. Hackett's lead vocals on the other songs do sound much better than when his sings on his rock albums. His voice sounds more relaxed and doesn't have to reach for the very high notes. It surprised me to hear some tunes which moved toward the usual progressive rock style. Big Dallas Sky for example could easily have come from his album released one year earlier (Guitar Noir), or could have been taken from Darktown (1999). Others have a fine mix of both styles that you can hear on So Many Roads and Solid Ground. After the earlier mentioned Solid Ground, the album officially ended in 1994. For the re-release of the album, Steve penned with his wife Jo On Cemetery Road. Patch Of Blue was written completely on his own. The first piece has a fine jazz rhythm on which Steve plays strong guitar parts very much like you could hear on his progressive rock albums. The other new piece moves more towards the style which you can hear most of the time on the original album tracks. The earlier mentioned Gary Moore is never far away. Roger King (Steve's keyboard player) can be heard on the keyboards playing some entertaining organ parts.
When you hear the album for the first time you might say Blues With A Feeling is for completists only but that's not really true after hearing it several times. The album most of all shows what a wonderful musician Hackett is and that he can play anything he wants to. I am glad Esoteric Recordings managed to bring this album back into the spotlight. Otherwise I was never able to hear the fine blues licks in combination of the riffs we all know Steve can play.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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