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Pete Cornelius - Tumbleweed

Only Blues Music (Australia)

10 tracks

Total time: 49:30

What Cornelius offers on Tumbleweed is a very sophisticated rock album with links to the blues. There is, of course, Cornelius’s excellent lead guitar playing that draws inspiration from later blues guitarists, notably Buddy Guy and the late Mike Bloomfield. Also, the Pete Cornelius-penned title song, track 4, is a solid blues-rock number of desperate getting-away-from-it-all that adapts country as well as blues influences, a Nashville/Memphis fusion sound backed by riffing blues piano. Further, another Cornelius original, track 9, “Helpless Man,” with its low-tone, slightly fuzz-guitar riff and burning lyrics, sounds much like a rock adaptation of city blues. But that’s it for actual ties to blues.

The rest of Tumbleweed is far more rock than blues, although a sophisticated modern rock that’s learned well from the best of 1960s-1980s rock, from the Rolling Stones through Mellencamp and Springsteen. That to me, as one who loves good rock as much as he loves good blues, is a solid pedigree which commends this CD.

Of the 10 tracks, six are Pete Cornelius originals; of the four songs written by others, three are from certified rockers who only occasionally did blues: Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul,” the 1967 hit by Buffalo Springfield, track 2; and the ending instrumental, “Deadman Theme;” along with Rory Gallagher’s “Bad Penny,” track 6, a rocker built around the kind of imagery common to the blues, comparing a bad woman to a bad penny that just keeps proverbially coming back. The final song written by someone else is blues/R&B master Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down,” track 8, which is done here as a longish, pensive, yet thoroughly modern rock, not blues, ballad.

Pete Cornelius does indeed have a way with original song lyrics, as all six of his originals show; they are evocative, sensual, and philosophical in the way the best rock of the late 1960s-early 1970s could so often be. Interestingly enough, the geographical imagery on tracks 3-5, “San Jose,” “Tumbleweed” and “Driving Love,” seem more evocative of the U.S. than they do of Australia. Only the first track, “Town of Machine,” evokes images of Australia more than it does of the U.S., at least to this American listener. But maybe that’s because, with the wide spread of rock worldwide now, what we have is a Global Village music that borrows freely from, and incorporates, influences from all over, and is at home anywhere—as, for example, track 7, “Stars,” a song of getting out and realizing ambition that relates to the way many feel not only in the U.S., but, I’m sure, also in Canada, Europe and Australia.

The instrumentation is first-rate throughout, with Cornelius showing himself adept on a wide range of different guitars, which encompass standard electric and acoustic, resonator, lap steel and pedal steel, along with electric and stand-up bass. With nicely-understated backing only by Henry Nichols, drums, and Randal Muir’s Hammond organ and piano to Cornelius’s rhythm guitar and bass, it’s solidly captivating in the way it sticks just to the essentials, without histrionics or overplaying. The same could also be said of Cornelius’s lead guitar playing—just sticking felicitously to the basics, creatively and originally, certainly, but not overdone or with gratuitous flash. Ian Collard adds accompanying harmonica to Cornelius’s guitar solo on “”On Your Way Down;” and Kelly Ottaway plays Wurlitzer electric piano and regular piano on “Town of Machine.” Background singers Carmel Claxton and Jane McArthur appear on a couple of tracks.

All in all, Pete Cornelius’s latest release, Tumbleweed, is a top-notch, original rock CD that draws on, but does not depend on, the best of contemporary rock and some blues influences. Being a rock music fan, I would recommend it.

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style and has written a regular music column for several years.

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