Chicago has always been an important part of blues history. It is where people first began to buy blues recordings in significant numbers. The demand sent every man with a microphone into the fields of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas recording any and all musicians they could find. Often the recording took place right in the field while men picked cotton, hoed rows, or cut hay to the rhythm being recorded.
Calvin Conway recently released an EP titled By Rail which is the product of a personal journey that in many ways mimicked the trip from Chicago to Texas so many men looking for blues gold followed early in the 20th century. It seems this period of reflection and discovery so moved Calvin that he wrote and recorded By Rail while the memories were still at the front of his mind.
Living in Austin I can certainly understand how immersing yourself in the music of Texas would get the creative juices flowing. Calvin is a talented harp player with songwriting skills and a laid back, easy blues voice. All four songs on By Rail are upbeat, easy songs that sound much like I suspect his journey felt like most of the time.
Calvin discusses his trip on his website, calvinconway.com and he was in Texas during the drought, heat, and fires of recent years. This has influenced a darker blues sound that he says will be available on a later release.
Calvin also talks about his love of tube equipment in his recording process and it is evident even on the MP3 recordings, the only version I could find. While the EP is immersive and well recorded I can only wonder how much of his care is lost in the compression process. I found the dynamics to be exceptional for an MP3, another sign of care throughout the process, but I can’t shake the feeling that on my main system at least, some of the detail was missing.
All in all this is one heck of a start for Calvin and I look forward to his next release. I am also selfishly hoping for an Austin tour date one of these days. Do yourself a favor and drop a few bucks for a man who pays attention to the details in both his writing and his recording. By Rail will put a quick smile on your face and set your toes to tapping.