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Alvin Youngblood Hart & Sue Foley 

Start With the Soul (Hannibal); Love Comin' Down (Shanachie)

Alvin Youngblood Hart and Sue Foley -- two of the better young blues artists -- explore the idea of traveling on their new discs and come up with some new ways of making the traditional blues theme resonate. When Hart, a dreadlocked guitar virtuoso, released the acoustic Big Mama's Door in 1996, he was hailed as a savior in the preservation of Delta blues. Then, as with so many Delta bluesmen, he left home and took it to the crossroads of Texas for his second album, the far more eclectic Territory. The migration is complete with this third album. He's gone to California, and he's even got a song here about breaking into the movies. Hart dusts off a hit parade relic like the 1971 smash "Treat Her Like a Lady," just to prove he has left the country behind and is now totally plugged in; he's successfully incorporated soul, jazz, and R&B with the electric blues. Hart set out four years ago to show us he can do just about anything with a guitar, and with Start With the Soul, he's convinced us that he can.

Foley's traveling takes on sociological dimensions on Love Comin' Down, although relocating from Quebec to Texas is quite a haul. Her journey extends from the bailiwick of poor Southern black men to the homes of middle-class young white women. If Foley's fair skin and red hair raised eyebrows when she released Young Girl Blues four albums ago, it doesn't now. White women playing blues is no longer a novelty. If you ignore the fact that her voice isn't that great and that the soul isn't quite there, Love Comin' Down is a solid successor to previous releases. In her case, the guitar does the singing, and it is the voice of the blues as a feeling as much as a musical style. Foley can take on Delta blues ("Empty Cup"), urban blues ("Two Trains"), or lounge-lizard ballads ("Am I Worthy?"). She's a strong composer and a good interpreter of the songs of others. She has chosen her covers well this time out, even though it's a safe move to do Willie Dixon's "Same Thing" -- a song so good, it's hard to perform badly. Hart and Foley are among a handful of young talents keeping the blues viable into the music's second century, and their new albums shouldn't be ignored.

More by Steve Byrne

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