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He'll put a spell on you

Handful of Rain
Handful of Rain
By Neal Black & the Healers

DixieFrog Records: 2007

This review first appeared in Turbula in December 2007.

Since the deaths of Screamin' Jay Hawkins and John Campbell, Neal Black has been the king of the voodoo blues. Dark, occult themes have always resided in Black's songs, and "Handful of Rain" is no different, with tales of New Orleans black magic running through the album.

But even a quick listen will prove that Black's much more than just a novelty figure in the underground of the blues. Now based out of Europe much of the year, Black's incendiary guitar work and powerful place him among the most powerful straddlers of blues and rock going – seat him alongside Ronnie Earl and Johnny Winter. With his distinctive, Howlin' Wolf-inflected singing voice and his Stevie Ray Vaughan-styled lead guitar both matched to his mix of otherworldy and overtly political lyrics, Black is one of the most intriguing listens in the blues today.

His new album is full of the same kind of immediately accessible blues-rock songs as his previous outings going back to his debut, "Neal Black & the Healers" – and yet, unlike his earlier albums, it also contains streaks of deep country (a cover of Merle Travis' "Black Mountain Rag" is only the most obvious example) and bluegrass. And the instrumental track "Rainbow Graveyard" is a step into the sort of jazz-rock fusion that Frank Zappa delighted in playing.

He sings with a barely restrained passion on every song, the energy as taut as an over-filled balloon. The current incarnation of the Healers matches him both in virtuosity and intensity.

Whether you're an old fan who lost track of him or new to his brand of swamp blues, Black's latest album is awfully hard to pry out of your CD player.