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Carmen Gomes Inc. - Up Jumped the Devil

12-28-2021 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 119

With this completely unexpected treatment of the great Robert Johnson's songs, Carmen Gomes Inc. surprises and delights me. I was expecting blues, of course, but the band's interpretations are a unique fusing of blues, bebop and contemporary rhythms. A refreshing new look based more around the lyrics and the mood of the songs.

Carmen Gomez Inc, Up Jumped the Devil. Sound Liaison. 2021 (DXD) HERE

If you're expecting something traditional, you're going to be surprised. These are not the acoustic blues we hear from Johnson's own recordings, nor the electric renditions of Eric Clapton. These are a unique treatment bringing the combined talents of the band members in a sometimes dreamy, frequently atmospheric, always sultry blend of voice, guitar, bass, and percussion. Peter Bjørnild, bassist, arranger and producer, writes, "More than playing parts, guitarist Folker Tettero and drummer Bert Kamsteeg are playing moods. I actually asked Bert to play the lyrics instead of the drums... Throughout the album Folker is in constant dialogue with Carmen's melody line, sometimes edging her on and at other times comforting her. Folker decided to use an electric 12 string guitar on the small miniatures."

Each of the Robert Johnson songs are framed by with small instrumental miniatures written by Bjørnild and Gomes. They add tremendously to the overall effect of a "frame story" where each song is a picture set within the larger overall frame of the album: "Robert walking late at night, en route in the Mississippi Delta, reflecting back on his life."

Blues legend Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) made some landmark recordings in 1936 and 1937. These recordings are available in various reissues, including most notably the 1961 compilation released on Columbia Records, "King of the Delta Blues Singers."

But just to be clear: this new album from Carmen Gomes Inc. is not pure unalloyed Robert Johnson. It is a fresh imagining, in contemporary musical language, of the feelings and mood of those originals. And, as this, it works supremely well.

This is another exceptional recording from Sound Liaison's recording engineer Frans de Rond.

Gomes' sultry voice is captured beautifully—clear, present, rich—with a "reach out and touch" immediacy. De Rond starts with his typical set up for his One Mic recordings, a main central Josephson C700S stereo microphone to capture the overall sound of the band. Then he adds just a bit here and a bit there: a support microphone on Gomes, a support microphone on Bjørnild's double-bass, a spaced pair of ambient microphones.

The magic, though, is in the delicate combining of these into a very coherent whole. The sound stage is stable, three-dimensional, magically immediate. De Rond is simply a master.