20th October 2020
I first heard about Selwyn Birchwood thanks to Chris Prior’s excellent weekly podcast of boogie-worthy tunes. For the uninitiated, Selwyn is a Blues guitarist, singer/songwriter who has been making major waves since winning the Albert King Guitarist of the Year Award in 2013.
Born and raised in Orlando, Florida, he started playing the guitar at 13 and thanks to an early Hendrix fixation, turned his interest to Blues. By 17-years-old he was a fanatic and immersed himself in the music of Buddy Guy, Freddie and Albert King, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins…you get the picture.
A fortunate meeting with the neighbour of a friend when he was 19-years-old helped set the course of his future. The neighbour was Sonny Rhodes, the veteran bluesman who had been releasing records since the 1960s. Selwyn’s playing impressed Sonny Rhodes and he invited the ‘newbie’ to tour with him and his outfit, which he dd off-and-on for four years while he attended college.
In a ‘Living Blues’ interview, he acknowledged the influence Sonny Rhodes had on his life, “I learned a lot from him. He took me all over the United States, all over Canada and showed me what the lifestyle was like. He always kept me second in command, by his side, and tried to show me how to be a bandleader and, very important, the business side of it.”
Let’s start today with an early song from 2011’s self-released ‘FL Boy’. I wish there was a live clip of this but it doesn’t exist. Instead, let’s visit the funfair and some smokin’ lap-steel work. If you listen to each of today’s featured songs you will hear how Selwyn’s style has evolved over his career.
After Selwyn received his MBA he headed to Tampa and formed the Selwyn Birchwood Band. 2013 saw them win the International Blues Challenge. One of the judges was the Alligator Records president who had had his eye on Selwyn for a while and signed him shortly after.
The band started touring further afield after this sucess and soon became a known name on the major festival ciircuit. In 2014 the album ‘Don’t Call No Ambulance’ was released on the Alligator label. The album is a masterpiece collection of well crafted songs that can’t help but impress. It was lapped up by the Blues fraternity and won the Blues Music Award in the ‘Best New Artist Album’ in 2015.
Here’s what ‘Living Blues’ had to say; “Selwyn Birchwood is a master storyteller—both lyrically and musically. He’s an impressive, hard-crunching, modern blues guitarist. His fretwork is high-energy, raw and vivid…knife-edged leads and roadhouse-rattling grooves. He is graced with a depth and maturity that would be impressive in a grizzled veteran, let alone a fresh-faced young man.”
Let’s listen to the title track of ‘Don’t Call No Ambulance’
In 2017 Selwyn Birchwood and his long-time band members, Regi Oliver (sax), Huff Wright (bass) and Courtney Girlie (drums) released his new album ‘Pick Your Poison’. Selwyn wrote and produced all 13 tracks which range from humorous and personal to hard-hitting and topical. The lyrics and spirit of the songs are brought to life with Birchwood’s gruff vocals.
On the Alligator Records website, he is quoted as saying. “I write and sing what I know, this album has a broad reach. It’s for young, old and everyone in between.” I agree with him. I listened to the whole album earlier and found it diverse, kind of familiar but original at the same time, and infinitely listenable.
I was going to close with one of the tracks from this highly recommended album, but as I was trying to find a decent live clip I turned-up a brand new single from Selwyn – and at last, it is an ‘official video’ and not a hand-held fan recording. I don’t know if it was providence or algorithms that led it to me, but after taking a listen I knew it had to be today’s closing track
‘Living in a Burning House’ is a comment on the imperfect lie of the perfect relationship. Each of today’s featured songs distinctly shows Selwyn Birchwood’s growth as a musician, and the closing song is so slick that I can’t help wonder how he’ll better it. I’m sure we’ll find out soon. From what I make out this new single is a part of a new upcoming album, but there are no fixed details as yet.
I think this quote of Selwyn’s sums up his commitment to making fine music; “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than playing the blues, and I try to convey that with every song and with every performance.” Thanks for joining me for a look at this fine bluesman today, here’s ‘Living in a Burning House’. 😎
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by Andrew Knapp in support of his Loving the Music Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do do more than just share a song.
The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.
Words © Andrew Knapp 2020