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Learning the blues

Ain't No Man
Ain't No Man
By Anna Troy

Rag Doll Records: 2006

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This review first appeared in the August 24, 2006 issue of the North County Times.

Refashioning her sound and approach after recording a major label album with her sister, Lindsey, as The Troys, Anna Troy's new solo album is an all-blues affair. As big a shift as the blues is stylistically from the alt-tinged power pop of The Troys' material, the San Diegan shows a definite knack for writing solid blues songs.

But writing a blues song is a world apart from singing a blues song. No snobbery of the purist here: young and old, black and white and any other color are all capable of fully expressing themselves through the blues. Still, it takes time to learn blues phrasing, to learn how to shape one's voice in the blues scale, to get the blues beat down pat.

And while Troy has done well in getting veteran bluesman Robin Henkel to sit in on bass and guitar, and has an otherwise very solid band on this outing, the fact remains that she doesn't sound entirely comfortable in her singing here. With her voice sounding hesitant, almost thin at times, "Ain't No Man" has the feel of a rock musician making the transition to the blues. Only on "The Best Damn Lover" and a cover of the traditional "In My Time of Dying" does she really have that blues feeling to her singing (these are also the only two songs Henkel plays guitar on).

Which brings us back to the songs – 10 of the 11 coming from Troy's pen. Even writing the blues is different from other forms, and in her writing Troy found her groove but quick. Most of the songs have a Texas R&B sound to them, not so different from what Lou Ann Barton and Angela Strehli recorded early in their careers. She then shifts it up on "Ain't Too Young," which is in the Carolinas/Piedmont style with lithe guitar lines and harmonica punctuation.

They're all solid songs, though. And as Troy grows into the blues, those songs are just going to sound better and better in her hands.