With half a dozen albums to his credit, New Orleans-based bluesman Luke Winslow-King has etched a niche as a seasoned troubadour whose adherence to form is measured only by his own emotions. Like Ry Cooder, Gary Clark, Robert Cray, and Walter Trout, he’s keen on tapping tradition without letting it bind him completely. Winslow-King’s is a sound that’s, by turns, both soft and searing, with imagery and pastiche of a decidedly vintage variety.
That said, Blue Mesa is his most gripping effort yet, one in which he gives full weight to his talents as a singer and songwriter along with his exceptional guitar play. The opening wail of “You Got Mine” and the flourish at the beginning of “Born to Roam” aside, Winslow-King builds his songs sparingly and through restraint. The slow developing shuffle of “Thought I Heard You” and the mellower strains of the title track reflect his unhurried approach, one that allows the songs to find their pace before accelerating in any sudden spurts. His vocals — a sound akin to honey-soaked gin — enhance that easy pace, another indication of his effortless engagement and wistful southern sprawl.
Here again, Winslow-King taps a template most great bluesmen made their model as far as connecting in ways that were both comforting and compelling. His music reflects the lilting tones of his adopted city by letting the melodic currents drift where they will. Easy yet emphatic, his melodies add influences of folk and country, but never come across as confined to any particular set of parameters. Winslow-King demonstrates his craft very well, and in so doing succeeds on any number of levels. An adept example of mood and melodic stirred in equal measure, Blue Mesa indeed finds Winslow-King climbing to a higher plateau.