Ivor S.K. ‘Delta Pines’ Album Review

Ivor S.K. has recently released his debut EP entitled Delta Pines. The five delectable songs are all written, sung, and performed on acoustic guitar by Ivor Simpson-Kennedy and contain an unvarnished substance and style that evokes the pre-World War II country blues centers of the Mississippi Delta and the Piedmont regions. Born halfway across the globe in Sydney Australia, this young artist has assimilated the sounds and spirit of the blues pioneers who paved the musical roads for the many that ensued upon their path.

The past two to three years have seen Ivor dividing his time between Sydney and New Orleans, Louisiana ripening his vocal, guitar and songwriting skills while soaking up the magical musical mojo inherit in the locale while playing with some of NOLA’s personalities. Ivor also had the privilege and distinction of appearing on the world renowned blues radio program King Biscuit Time emanating out of Helena, Arkansas.

The opening number is called “Help Poor Me,” with lyrics that portray common blues themes of health and money (or more precisely the lack thereof). Ivor’s vocals fall into the steady deep medium range and contain more than a smidgen of bluesy grit. While the vocal style is uniquely his own, I hear traces of other artists who have been blessed with personality brandished with a confident attitude. Ivor’s appealing vocal style somehow helps lend a subtle pathos to every phrase uttered in his songs. The first verse of “Help Poor Me” could relate the strains brought to bear on a body working from dawn to dusk in the old-time Delta region performing the exhaustive undertakings of chopping and picking cotton, mule skinning, levee building, or being a steamboat roustabout. “My knees they ache, my feet is sore, I can’t be living like this no more. My back ain’t right, it fuss at night, man I can hardly roll from left to right.” The second verse concerns the financial woes that were relevant then, just as they are nowadays. An instrumental interlude with an unhurried conversation between overlaid acoustic and slide guitars stands sublime in its simplicity.   

Ivor shows further vivid lyrical finesse with “Missus Green,” a tune that reveals his remedy of choice to be the “sticky-sweet Missus Green.”  Ivor cites other medications such as whiskey, gin, champagne, wine, absinthe, rum, vodka, and beer as each having their own undesirable side effects; while he simply loves his Missus Green. His guitar play is again acutely clean and simple, serving the song quite nicely, combined with a muffled bass drum keeping a steady beat. 

The instrumental “Pelican” is my favorite with a rocking chair melody and fluid finger-picking style that shows footprints of Ivor’s Piedmont influences Blind Blake and the Reverend Gary Davis, as well as Davis’ many adherents such as Taj Mahal (the “keep it simple element”) and Ry Cooder (superior quality bottleneck play). It’s a beautiful leisurely song that brings to mind sunny days and the magnificent fragrance of magnolia blossoms wafting through the trees upon a Mississippi/Louisiana summer breeze. Ivor shines radiantly on both acoustic and bottleneck slide guitar making the song magnificently enticing and enjoyable.     

“Here’s a short story on the naming of Pelican, a favourite tune of mine. Pelican was one of those songs where the music came before the title. I’d been sitting on the tune for a while hoping that a name would jump out of the ether and to my ear — the song had strong southern leanings, so I was searching for a title that reflected that. It came to me while I was in Louisiana, travelling along the coast, and my friend happened to mention that Louisiana’s nickname was ‘The Pelican State.’ Something about it, and the gliding bottleneck melody in the song, seemed to fit. I was also inspired by the song “Albatross” that Peter Green wrote while in Fleetwood Mac. I’m a huge fan of his, so I liked the fact I could pay a certain amount of homage in the title too.” ~ Ivor S.K.

“I Like The Way” is a tale about a man’s relationship with his woman that steadily progresses on a downward spiral through four emotional stages. It is uncertain whether this transformation occurs over weeks, months, or maybe years. At the start of the song the man “loves” everything about his lady. The second stage he only “likes” some of her qualities and actions. This is followed by his “don’t like” stage where her cheap perfume and attitude are turn-offs. By the song’s conclusion he has moved to the point of “hate” for the lass and her wicked ways. Overlapped guitar harmonies once again accompany Ivor’s charismatic vocal in this short, but mighty fine, song that has a slow boogie melody that is guaranteed to get stuck firmly in your head. 

The EP closes with the title track, “Delta Pines,” and it is yet another display of the salient lyricism at Ivor’s disposal. He reels off famous blues players and historical blues locations quicker than a knife fight in a phone booth.  Willie Dixon and his birthplace of Vicksburg, Indianola (birthplace of B.B. King), Clarksdale, Helena, gravesites of Bessie Smith and Charley Patton, and the crossroads where legend has Robert Johnson “singing his song.” He mentions Church Street in Indianola, Mississippi where B.B. King described the corner of Church St. and Second St.as “Like a good fishing hole” where he played blues to passersby early in his career. Ivor’s slide and acoustic guitar work is superlative and the muffled kick-drum beat and gospel percussive hand claps add even more character to the song. As Ivor adeptly states “Delta Pines are callin’, listen to what Muddy Waters said.”

“The title cut is an autobiographical tale of a trip I took through the Delta, seeing all the hotspots. I tried to have the music represent the atmosphere and history down there with the repetitive guitar arrangement in the vein of Patton and his disciples, and the open tuning bottleneck part was very Delta influenced in its makeup.” ~ Ivor S.K.

Delta Pines is an inspired artistic statement and establishes a wonderful introduction to Ivor S.K. These five bluesy penned acoustical compositions are of particularly high quality and should attract due attention from true lovers of the classic Delta Blues. Simply put: this is music that captivates.