An American Bluesman in Europe: Kid Man Blues by Bert Deivert

By Daniel Garrett

Bert Deivert, Kid Man Blues
Produced by Bert Deivert, Willie Salomon, with others
Hard Danger Studio, 2011

Masculine, forceful, rhythmic string music is the singer and mandolin-player Bert Deivert’s interpretation of “Goin’ Down South,” a R.L. Burnside song about a woman who has another man hanging around.  It is a great beginning to Kid Man Blues, a really rich sound.  In the song, Nina Perez plays violin and Suchet Malhotra plays cajon, a percussive instrument in the shape of a box, the kind of instrumentation that gives the music a unique tone.  Money, bad temperament, and jealousy are all part of the mix in “State Street Pimp,” actually but surprisingly a traditional blues, in which Deivert sings, “You took all my money and gave it to your State street pimp.”  Deivert’s singing in the tune is a little too weary for my taste—I would have preferred more outrage.  Who is Bert Deivert?  Bert Deivert performed with a musician I like, singer-guitarist Eric Bibb, in years past, an extensive collaboration that began when Deivert saw Bibb and thought Bibb superior to the singer Bibb was supporting, but that was not my introduction to Deivert; rather, I heard one of Deivert’s songs on a Saturday night folk music radio program out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana—and was startled by the song’s arrangement, its sophistication, and I had to hear more.  The Boston-born Bert Deivert has lived in Sweden for years, having moved there after meeting a Swedish girl in San Francisco; and his recordings include Takin’ Sam’s Advice, When I Look at You, and Handcrafted Songs.  (Deivert also has a master’s degree in film and has made films.)  Deivert, who plays blues and folk festivals, is recognized as one of the few players of blues mandolin—Deivert himself has named others: Rich DelGrosso, Gerry Hundt, Billy Flynn, and Jimi Hocking.  In Bert Deivert’s faith in music, recognition of the talents of others, willingness to collaborate, and traveling, Deivert has become an artist who is a unifier, rather than a divider, of humanity.

On the album Kid Man Blues, an album recorded in Sweden, Thailand, Germany, and the United States over a period of years, Bert Deivert does the Paul Jones song “Rob and Steal,” and there’s something very head-down-and-focused about the energy in the song, as if something burning in the music matches the intensity of the scavenging character being described.  Downbeat, haunted, “Come Back Baby” is a moodily dramatic request for a lover’s return, featuring blues-rock guitar (that is, Dulyasit Srabua on electric guitar and John Dooley on electric bass).  Deivert’s vocal phrasing works here—it is careful, heavy, slow, from a place of knowledge and strength, really a form of pragmatism, despite the narrator’s vulnerability.  “I asked a married woman to let me be her kid,” sings Deivert, improbably and humorously, in Carl Martin’s “Kid Man Blues.”  Attraction and distance, a discourse between man and woman, “Keep on Truckin’” has an old-time feel, with country picking, Deivert playing mandolin, and Fred Karlsson playing resonator guitar; it is a variation of the ditty “Truckin’ My Blues Away,” and has the vocal participation of New Lost City Rambler Tom Paley.  “Cypress Grove,” by Skip James, is focused on choosing separation and even death over a bad relationship, and Deivert’s recording of it has a sultry sound with lethal concentration in a world with train-stop atmospherics, a world in which old people and religious literature offer advice that may be good, but too good for the people and lives being lived.  (Deivert plays the resonator guitar in “Cypress Grove,” with Mats Qwarfordt on harmonica.)  The collection includes Deivert’s instrumental composition “Lula,” and the comic, sexually suggestive popular standard “Diddie Wah Diddie,” and the classic Son House blues “Death Letter,” which brings news of a beloved’s death, and leads to a narrator’s travel and viewing of the body, the stark details laying bare the facts of love and death: “I didn’t know I loved her till they laid her body down,” he sings, and imagines hearing her voice, saying his name.  The song, here, does not have the impact I would like.  (Of course, I have heard Son House’s version, but my favorite interpretation is that of Cassandra Wilson.)  “Special Agent” was written by Sleepy John Estes about avoiding train police on the way to a recording session, and I wish I could hear the lyrics better, but the music contains things frank and frisky, and the message comes through, the way a survivor’s instinct can be quickened by danger, its knowledge and wit, its style, passed onto others; and “Nongharn Blues,” by Deivert with guitarist Dulyasit Srabua, has both Spanish and eastern (Asian) instrumental rhythms.  That is collaboration, that is friendship, that is art.

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House and ABC No Rio, is a writer whose work has appeared in print and online, in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Black Film Review, Cinetext, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Identity Theory, Illuminations, Option, Pop Matters, Rain Taxi, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Wax Poetics, as well as The Compulsive Reader.  “I am interested in being, perception, knowledge, individuality, creativity, citizenship, community, and virtue, subjects drenched in assumption and prejudice that require fresh thinking,” says Daniel Garrett, who edited poetry for the male feminist Changing Men magazine, wrote about African-American Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, reported on environmental issues for National Audubon (The Audubon Activist), reviewed books for World Literature Today, and essayed international film for Offscreen.
Contact: dgarrett31@hotmail or