Dan Patlansky's Move My Soul is album number 4 for South Africa's very own Stevie Ray Vaughan clone and I guess this is one more time where can only say Dan is keeping on keeping on doing what he does best.
The talent is undeniable, as is the drive and dedication, and the pure will to be the most technically gifted blues guitarist he can possibly be. Is there really any soul to this skill, though? Most of these lyrics sound like Patlansky's approximation of what the blues should sound like, a pastiche of tropes, and not truly something he feels deeply, as ought to be the case with blues. You can learn the elements of blues guitar but you cannot learn to have the blues; you can practice your licks till your fingers bleed but you cannot practice having the blues.
Patlansky covers BB King's You Upset Me and Arthur Crudup's That's Allright (more famously Elvis Presley's first hit single) and lesson's are noteworthy. King is arguably the most famous bluesman alive (at the writing of this piece) and perhaps the best blues guitarist there will ever be, not because he could showboat but because his technique and emotional attack combined so seamlessly that he is pretty much own his own at the top of the blues pyramid, with no-one even close. Crudup, on the other hand, was your basic journeyman bluesman who could write decent songs, almost pop blues, yet did not have the talent or ability to do proper justice to his own songs. In his case, other people made his songs shine.
Patlansky falls somewhere between the two poles. He has emotional intensity when he sings, and his guitar can sound like demons screaming in hell, but his own tunes are pretty basic and not particularly memorable. The groove is the thing.
To his credit Dan Patlansky does not attempt to sound like B B King on this version of You Upset Me, but apart from the Vaughnisation of the song, Patlansky brings nothing new or interesting to his interpretation, if one could even call it an interpretation. He just plays the hell out of it and that's he does and that's all he does.
Wendy Oldfield, I guess, adds the gospel wail to Insufficient Man, and Guy Buttery adds sitar to the accoustic Peace of Eden instrumental. The latter tune is so much the better off for being a lullaby of sorts, with bottleneck flourishes, as it provided the proverbial oasis of calm amidst the intense pace of the guitar fireworks
The title track of the album is, natch, a kind of soul blues lament, once again with Wendy Oldfield emoting in the background and one can imagine the tune being a showstopper on stage providing Patlansky plays with more backing than his usual trio. Now that I think of it, weren't there horns on the previous albums? Move My Soul, the song, cries out for a riffing horn section driving the theme home.
Come & Play is obviously a pivotal song as it has a video and it seems to be an attempt at creating a rockin' good times boogie type of thing one would play at a juke joint for dancers a couple of drinks ahead of the game. Not essential but fun.
Unfortunately the album loses its plot round about here.
Luca is the second, almost 12-minute long, instrumental and this time I am reminded of three guys jamming in the studio, with the rhythm section basically vamping behind a masterful improvisatory guitarist. The song has many sections, some quiet and mellow, some relying on intricate jazzy chordal work, and some with bravura soloing. Maybe the track is intended as some kind of guitar masterclaas in which Dan Patlansky can show off his chops without the distraction of lyrics. I do not know who or what Luca is and why he/she/it merited this homage or tribute or compliment and I do not understand why this complete piece of filler, albeit it very well played filler, is on the album. At half the length it would have been too long.
Lord You Are Beautiful is as superfluous but it is less than a minute long.
That's Alright Mama is an exercise in fleet fingered blues, reminiscent of Alvin Lee's Ten Years After way back in the mid- to late Sixties, and not very alright at all. Why did Patlansky bother to maim this song in this horrible fashion? He brings nothing noteworthy to it, does not enhance it and should just have recorded one more of his own compositions to show off how fast he can pick, if that is what he wanted to do.
After the filler comes Backside of Paradise, which is a bottleneck and percussion tune that is about as close to the Delta as Patlansky gets and it is quite wonderful, not least because it is slower, more thoughtful and a hell of a lot more tuneful and succinct than the electric showboating he so loves. If I were to make a mix tape of Patlansky songs, this one would feature on it, no question.
The album closes on yet another instrumental, which again sounds like a jam and like something added because they needed to make up a number of tracks.
I now own all four Dan Patlansky releases and I still rate the second album, True Blue, as overall the best of the bunch for variety of styles, strength of songwriting and the sheer audacious ambition of it in the South African context where a blues band may make money playing live but I cannot quite see that albums would be commercially viable. Move My Soul is too much like "Real – Part Two", and not in a good way. My problem with most of Dan Patlansky's stuff is that there is little that is compelling enough that I would want to listen to it a lot I am speaking as a guy who loves the blues a great deal and who owns a bunch of albums by the real Stevie Ray Vaughan. One can listen to only so much virtuoso blues guitar playing before you start longing for some proper songwriting, some tunes, something that will stick in your mind.
All that sticks in my mind about Dan Patlansky is an admiration for his ability and an astonishment that he is as good a guitar player as he is. The songs do not stick. He has a schtick, and it may be sincere schtick form someone who must love the blues, but it is a schtick nonetheless. The blues is meant to be about realness and Dan Patlansky is still way too much of an imitator, an expert at pastiche and not a innovator. He may one day write a proper blues and I would want to around when he does.
Until then I'll listen to Stevie Ray when I want to hear someone who sounds like Stevie Ray, or to the old giants of Chicago blues when I want my soul moved by blues.