Michael Powers Onyx Root

If your blues palate is demanding something uniquely different, look no further than this Handy-nominated debut from a 53-year old groundbreaker. Thirteen tracks — more than half of them covers — positively shimmer with an aggressive, highly percussive assault that injects iron-rich blood into an oft-tired form. The New Jersey-born Powers spent his formative years in North Carolina, growing forever attached to the Southern way education his mother’s record collection of Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker taught. Various bands and solo journeys have landed him here — his commanding vocals and sinewy guitar distancing him from the pack. Yet it is his original compositions and his powerful ability to redefine his outlandish choice of covers that render Onyx Root essential. The confidence to attempt a stripped down take on Willie Dixon’s "Can’t Quit You Baby” or inject Howlin’ Wolf’s "Baby’s Got A Train” with Spanish guitar, piano and B3 is met with the unmitigated gall of updating Doug Sahm’s "She’s About A Mover” or Count Five’s "Psychotic Reaction.” Indeed, each distinctive destination adds to the next, setting the stage for rock-solid originals like "Successful Son” and "Shock.” The blend of Steve Jordan’s assertive drums contrasts with the loose, gospel-tinted contributions from members of Ollabelle, combining to help Powers realise his vision — one that remains refreshing in its breadth if not vital for its absolute clarity. (Baryon)