The dirty gravel cigarette soul voice in a million possessed by Josh Teskey has just released a blues album with renowned Aussie blues singer Ash Grunwald and it’s a beauty. 8 songs, four written by Ash, two by Josh, and a couple of choice covers to finish.
I caught up with Ash last week at his home in Melbourne and just failed to connect with Josh who was walking in the park with his new-born baby. So we talked about him instead.
Mushroom Creative House
The first thing we talk about is to test the implicit ambiguity in the title of the album which is also the title of track 4, and written by Josh. And to test our respective faiths in the future of the blues, which I have felt at times to be threatened by the passage of time and the literally dying influences of the old masters who were born in the Delta and who for the most part travelled north to Chicago to add a new dimension to the Delta Blues.
Embracing paradox, is Ash’s first response, something he thinks we need to do in these interesting times. Josh wrote the title track, and both his songs represent the folky, “tug the heartstrings” light side of the blues, whereas Ash is consigned to the devilish delta dark side. (Who, we might ask, made the pact?) Or, perish the thought, what did Josh do to get that voice?
For Ash, singing the blues is not about fighting depression or depressing thoughts, its more cathartic in nature, more of a soulful release. Which is what Ash believes brought he and Josh together to express themselves in this way, and with THAT voice. We segue off into a discussion about Pops Staples and then Clarksdale, and Cedric Burnside and Kingfish, and whether the blues is in crisis or alive and well, and for Ash the issue is not one of a conscious effort to preserve, more of a visceral response to the rhythm of the blues and a passion and a feel for the genre and therefore more of a contemporary response. Which of course augurs well. My blues are pushed away.
The album was produced by Sam Teskey using all their analogue gear they are known for, and so has an authenticity which inspires, and is predominantly delta blues, even though some of those who influence them did go to Chicago and plug in, the inference being that there’s not a lot of difference between Delta and Chicago blues, it’s just whether you’re unplugged or not. The album was recorded pre-covid and would have been released earlier but for the fact that The Teskey Brothers have just been consumed by their well-deserved journey to recognition Stateside. “Through the roof” is how Ash describes it.
The album was conceived after Ash asked the Teskeys to play on a song on his latest album , and in getting that done they worked out that the Teskey boys, after busking in Warandyte (aged around 10) would go watch Ash in his early days as he plied his emerging trade before he’d made his first album. This would be late 90s. So there’s a serendipity at play. As well as a lot of mutual respect.
I ask about the choice of covers. For me, of course, “The Sky is Crying”, by Elmore James, evokes Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Chicago style version, but in Ash’s case he goes to the late and legendary Aussie bluesman Chris Wilson, who died last year, for inspiration. And in a way, passing the baton, as he sits in between Josh and Chris age-wise, and has been able to introduce Josh to the old blues legends and their styles. Introducing Josh to Son House is the other example. And in return, he learns how to sing from the young master.
So, what happens next? A tour? Well yes, tours had been planned, but what is now left is Bluesfest, where they are both scheduled so they’ll do a gig together, and Womad. (So here’s hoping for Womad NZ next year). Then we talk about Ash’s career and the various styles he has embraced and being labelled a shredder in the latest Bluesfest publicity. What a nice guy, and why don’t I know him better? Every day is a school day.
So, back to the album. It’s a little treasure, from the swamp thing feel of “Low Down Dog”, to the Delta feel of “It Rained” the folky blues of “Hungry Heart” and “Push The Blues Away” to the harmonica framed, thigh slapping Chicago licks of “Thinking ‘Bout Myself” and “Something With Feel” and finally the covers “The Sky is Crying” in Delta style, and “Preacher’s Blues, where Josh truly nails his Son House lesson from Ash.
Push your blues away but don’t push the blues away. Embrace the paradox of pleasure from pain, and celebrate with Australia’s finest.
Available to buy/stream here