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November 19, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, November 19, 2004

Stanford's blues man Stanford's blues man (November 19, 2004)

David Jacobs-Strain delivers on latest CD MMM

by Marc Burkhardt

Since the heyday of Eric Clapton, white blues guitarists have straddled the line between artistic purity and commercial viability. Slowhand himself has made a career of vacillating between the genuine pain of "Layla" or "Crossroads" and the radio-friendly balladry of "Wonderful Tonight" or "Change the World."

Stanford wunderkind David Jacobs-Strain confronts this paradigm on his new CD, "Ocean or a Teardrop" (Northernblues Music), an intriguing take on acoustic blues that skirts the edges of singer-songwriter rock.

A skilled guitarist who began performing before audiences at the tender age of 11, Jacobs-Strain has an agreeably gruff voice and a willingness to stretch beyond blues conventions. On the powerful title track, for example, fiddles and koras nestle comfortably with Hammond B3 organs and a good, old-fashioned blues harp.

Jacobs-Strain, 20, is also formidable when he picks up a slide or resophonic guitar (an acoustic guitar with a metal resonator on it) and grumbles standards by Mississippi Fred McDowell ("Kokomo Blues"), Sleepy John Estes ("Girl I Love") and Blind Willie Johnson ("Soul of a Man"). His musicianship is often astonishing, and delivers each song in a personal style that honors Jacobs-Strain's forebears without succumbing to "blooze-man" clichˇs that undermine lesser talents.

There are still a few missteps, however. With its soaring organ and booming chorus, "Sleepless Dream" (co-written with Peter Joseph Burtt) sounds like warmed-over Springsteen as practiced by such less-than-notables as John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band.

At points, the CD's complex, vaguely rootsy riffs and controlled vocal performances also bear an uncomfortable resemblance to John Mayer. Given his marquee looks and KFOG-ready repertoire, it's possible some enterprising record mogul may try to transform Jacobs-Strain into Dave Matthews with a Stanford degree.

Given his genuine love for the blues and unquestioned talent, Jacobs-Strain will hopefully fend off such temptations and continue nurturing his adventurous muse. As it stands, "Ocean or a Teardrop" is an interesting transitional effort from a performer who bears watching.

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