There’s something kind of nice about a live show, even a recorded one, in these times where we’re all cooped up in our own bubbles. Hearing band members sharing a small stage; the murmur of a crowd; it’s all a reminder of what increasingly feels like a different world. So based upon that alone, Eddie 9V‘s (pronounced 9-volt) Way Down the Alley (Live at Blind Willie’s) is a fun diversion. But it’s also a strong set from an increasingly impressive blues artist.
9V is a blues obsessive. He handled most of the instruments on 2019’s Left My Soul in Memphis, nailing a classic blues sound and songwriting style. But a live show is a different beast, with 9V unable to play all of the instruments himself. So here, in this show from an Atlanta club, he concentrates on guitar and vocals, with a tight band backing him on a song list that relies heavily on Left My Soul in Memphis material. That album had a wonderfully raw
quality but stripped down even more in the live setting, the songs rock harder.
The soul numbers especially benefit from this live treatment. “Left My Soul in Memphis” swings on stage, 9V pushing the tempo and his band (Lane Kelly on bass, Colin Dean on drums, Jackson Allen on harmonica, and Chad Mason on keyboards) filling in the sonic gaps. Mason’s organ, in particular shines on that track, but the rhythm section also deserves a shout-out for its role as the heartbeat of the album. 9V is a strong guitarist, capable of speed but more often defaulting to melody. And his voice is in fine shape, rich and sounding like someone much older than his mid-20s. “Lo-Fi Love,” another Memphis track also receives an on-stage adrenaline shot. It’s a slower rhythm and blues, here driven by 9V’s guitar, which handles the lion’s share of the groove. It hits a very specific sweet spot, almost like something from the Black Keys’ Turn Blue, but performed with a bigger band.
The pacing of the set is great, with slower tracks used to give the audience a break every few songs but there are some elements that can be tightened up. One track, “Technical Difficulties,” coming in at over two minutes, is dedicated to 9V explaining the titular challenges, a moment that didn’t necessarily need to be permanently documented. “Cod’s Song” meanders a bit in a way that might translate well live, but that doesn’t necessarily stand up to repeated listening. These are small things that don’t detract from what is otherwise a a cohesive, well-recorded show that makes you feel like you’re in an Atlanta club enjoying a talented artist whose star is on the rise.
Memphis had a vintage, lo-fi aesthetic, with the production almost a character within the album. It’s interesting hearing these songs live, where the execution becomes something much more straight-forward. The songs pretty much all benefit from the live energy, showing that 9V is onto something with his songwriting, and that as talented a producer as he is, he’s just as strong as a performer. It all made me very curious about what his next studio album will sound like and if he’ll start recording with a band.
Artist: Eddie 9V
Title: Way Down the Alley (Live at Blind Willie’s)
Label: Hubbub! Music
Release Date: June 5th, 2020
Running Time: 57:22