Blues is truly an international art form now, so when I received Fifteen Raindrops in an Ocean of Blues Tales in its original mail wrapping from Greece, I was intrigued over how the blues would be interpreted by a leading Greek musician.
Paul Karapiperis, founding member of the Greek blues band Small Blues Trap, is lead singer and harmonica player with the group; this CD with the awkward and overlong title, Fifteen Raindrops in an Ocean of Blues Tales, is his first recording without Small Blues Trap.
However, it is not really a solo album, because Karapiperis is accompanied by three other Greek blues musicians, Panagiotis Daras, Lefteris Besios, and Sotris Kouroutis.
Although the accompanying musicianship is unattributed, heard on the CD are drums and percussion, upright bass, acoustic and electric guitars, vibes, piano and organ, with Karapiperis featured on vocals and Sonny Boy Williamson II-style acoustic harp.
Fifteen Raindrops is all original music, with melodies and lyrics composed by Karapiperis.
Fifteen Raindrops opens with a rousing Sonny Boy Williamson II-like harp solo accented with percussion, “Welcome Onboard! Clap Your Hands!” a chugging train song built around a gospel melody.
It is one of three instrumentals on the CD, all extending this train-journey motif.
The ending track is an expectant, moody jazz instrumental with blues inlay, “The End—or The Start—Of the Journey,” while in the middle, on track 7, is another jazz-blues instrumental on the same theme, “Midnight Ride.”
Jazz-blues intersperses on the CD with traditional blues styling drawn from Delta blues, with seven tracks blues and eight tracks jazz-blues.
Yet, genre lines are by no means demarcated, as within individual songs there is frequently an effortless glide from one blues approach to another, or from blues to jazz.
While four of the ensemble numbers here, which are all guitar-based in accompaniment, are built around Delta blues styling, track 9, “There Is No Place For You,” has a Piedmont blues feel, while track 11, “A Dance With Shadows,” is a guitar-with-piano-emphasis torch song.
The four Delta numbers—track 3, “A Voodoo Woman Can…,” track 4, “In Wood Alcohol Line,” track 12, “”Up In Heaven & Down In Hell,” and track 14, “My Lonesome Song”—feature churning guitar riffs that are reminiscent of a simplified John Lee Hooker, and acoustic slide playing that will remind one of the early Muddy Waters.
The jazz-blues numbers—which aside from those already mentioned, are comprised of track 2, “let’s Do The Boogie All Night,” track 5, “Dr. Lonely,” track 6, “Crazy Tones,” track 8, “Goodbye My Good Luck,” track 10, “S.B.T.,” and track 13, “Mr. Rob”—are all much indebted to modern guitar jazz, but have an inlay of blues as well. Their blues is jazzy, and their jazz is bluesy.
Fifteen Raindrops is essentially an acoustic CD, although electric guitar is used for emphasis in solos, and acoustic guitar carries most of the instrumental burden aside from Karapiperis’s harp solos and accompaniment.
The playing is first-rate, soulful as well as technically well done, and Karapiperis’s harp solos are creative extensions of the basic Sonny Boy Williamson II approach, with strong showing by Karaperis as well on vocals.
His gruff bass-baritone is evocative and emotionally resonant, as he shifts from indignant despair on track 8, “Goodbye My Good Luck,” and track 9, “Up In Heaven & Down In Hell,” to a Mephistophelean seductiveness on track 2, “Let’s Do The Boogie All Night,” and track 5, “Dr. Lonely.”
The volume of Karapiperis’s vocals range from conversational to a half-whisper—he is not a shouter—and fully expressive over a range of themes.
His original lyrics, while partaking of some classic blues imagery and themes, are not copycat, but unique, poetic and evocative, with a true literary quality.
His truly original lyrics motivate songs of strikingly different themes and modes of expressing traditional themes that, while they originate in traditional blues and jazz, re-state them with maverick artistry.
Fifteen Raindrops in an Ocean of Blues Tales is an adventurous album by American blues standards: Not only does it blur style lines within blues and blur genre lines between blues and jazz, it does so with aplomb and effortless ease; it also punctuates the music with lyrics that are surrealistic, brittle and essentially poetic and literary—and does this with aplomb and effortless ease as well.
An unusual musical journey indeed—and well worth the ticket price.
George “Blues Fin Tuna” Fish
Reviewer George “Blues Fin Tuna” Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy .