All Around ManOpus3 CD 23001
Format: Hybrid Stereo SACD

Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: *****
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2

Unsuspecting listeners such as I might put on this disc and think that Bottleneck John must be one of America’s newest, greatest blues singers, up from the Deep South. I stand by “newest” and “greatest,” but Bottleneck John was born Johan Eliasson, in Sweden. Fifteen years ago he heard an Eric Bibb album, went acoustic, and developed an authentic blues style of his own.

All Around Man is John’s first album for the Swedish audiophile label Opus3. I dare say it won’t be his last. He sings with controlled enthusiasm, has good tone and diction, and plays with absolute authority, whether on guitar, resonator guitar, banjo, Dobro, or kazoo. His program notes reveal that he restores vintage instruments, and plays a different one on almost every track. The CD booklet includes sharp color photos of the instruments, including a breathtaking centerfold that displays all 18.

The backing instruments are also carefully chosen. The piano, an 1887 Bechstein grand, sounds old in an excellent way. The most amazing instrument, to my ear, is the single-string diddley bow, made from a cigar box, that shows up on “Wade in the Water.” Bottleneck John makes more good music on it than I thought possible from looking at the instrument’s photo.

The songs range from traditional tunes such as “Lonesome Valley” and “How Long, How Long Blues” to “Jesus Gonna Be Here,” a gospel song by Tom Waits. A couple of hokum songs, “All Around Man” and “No Matter How She Done It,” revel in sexual innuendo. All in all, it’s a satisfying collection that has good balance and listens well from beginning to end.

The sound is the state of the art. Everything sounds so natural that it was if these eight musicians had been ushered into my listening room. All of John’s twangings, slidings, and tappings are absolutely clean. I loved it through my electrostatic speakers, which rewarded me with some choice moments. I can’t fault this recording in any way.

Check out Bottleneck John’s YouTube site; the sound isn’t great, but the fun is plentiful. He likes to set the sounds of machines to music. I really enjoyed “The Water Pump Blues,” which is bested only by the “Delta Tractor Blues Jam” and “The Old Steamboat Blues.”

. . . Rad Bennett