Words by Alexandra Petropoulos
In his 2004 album Swing Swing, guitarist, composer and producer Nicolas Repac took a futuristic journey through the history of swing, sampling old recordings and adding a contemporary, danceable flair. Similarly, Black Box unearths and follows the various lines of the blues sensibility through its many forms, from reworking classic bottleneck blues to highlighting soulful Balkan melodies. The album opens with ‘Chain Gang Blues,’ a dreamlike arrangement of African-American inmates recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax in 1947. Mysterious harmonies and guitar underline the time-keeping crash of axes and distant call-and-response hollers.
There are other excellent samplings of Lomax recordings including ‘All Ready?,’ featuring a 1959 recording of John Davis and the Georgia Sea Island Singers that highlights the industrial, work-song aesthetic with heavy hits and off-kilter rhythms and ‘Betty Loop,’ which (perhaps unsurprisingly) loops a 1933 recording of ‘Black Betty’ by James ‘Iron Head’ Baker. Repac samples other classic blues singers – including Bo Diddley on ‘Bo’s a Lumberjack’ and Blind Willie Johnson on ‘Redemption Blues’ – but venturing further afield, he features Angola’s Bonga (‘Cenas de Gaby’), Senegal’s Cheikh Lô (‘Pulaar’) and Haiti’s Ti-Coca (‘Haiti Bottleneck’). Most surprising perhaps is ‘La Fuerza del Sentimiento’, in which subtle accompaniment beautifully supports Peruvian Guillermo Arévalo Valera’s shamanic chanting or ‘Slepa Ljubav,’ which samples Serbian Stana Selimovic’s haunting Balkan melodies over blues guitar. While not as danceable as Swing Swing, Black Box is still an exceptional album that is able to offer a contemporary take on the blues and its relatives without compromising the music’s original soul and beauty.
TRACK TO TRY: All Ready?