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Lonesome Dan Kase’s new release So Glad I’m Livin’ brings an emotional depth and virtuosity to early blues and R&B few musicians can muster.

 

The self-released CD opens with Kase’s own “Rat Race Blues”. The delta slide licks and suggestive lyrics mean you wouldn’t recognize the tune as Kase’s unless you read the liner notes. Like Mississippi blues poets, the lyrics hint at what’s wrong rather than say it outright. Kase’s bag -- taking the idioms the blues composers and employing them to create something new -- grows steadily richer and more varied with time.

A few years ago, you wouldn’t have heard Kase playing “Get yourself another Fool” recorded by Charles Brown, an R&B star from the 1940s and ‘50s. It’s a sweet song -- Brown sang jazz-tinged ballads years before Ray Charles - with accessible lyrics, and a mellower vocal approach. With songs like this Kase signals that he’s not confined to country blues - he’ll take what he likes and create an arrangement that works.

 

Kase has always been a subtle player - he’d rather practice 6 hours a day, and leave a gig with a clear head than hang out till last call. He didn’t hire a producer for this project, and he doesn’t plug his guitar in an amp. Kase says he would rather let the music speak for itself.

 

The new CD is just his guitar work and his singing. Kase’s guitar licks only become more intricate with time. Seeing his fingers move at a gig with such speed and precision, it’s almost frightening. You ask yourself: Is this guy a classical player with a bottleneck on his finger? But that’s what his work ethic can produce.

 

"There’s a dedication I’ve had in general to do something till it’s done and I’m proud of it,” he says. Kase’s father worked as a police officer most of his life, first in Detroit, then in the small town where Kase grew up. Both of his brothers are in the trades -- by age 33 Kase was supposed to have a family, and a solid middle-class income. But he chose a different way: self-producing albums, and playing enough gigs to pay his rent and keep his guitars in good repair.

 

Kase’s tune “Finch’s Blues” is about aging hipsters he’s known in the music world, folks who let their experience of failure color everything they see. Kase says he understands how a person can get jaded - he’s had his share of failures and rejections - but allowing oneself to become bitter is tragic.

“People get disappointed about the way their lives turn out. I get why people feel that way - mine’s turned out 50/50 -- but you don’t have to get down on everybody else.”

 

I don’t mind snow in June/ And I don’t mind a little rain on my honeymoon/But I must confess/That I am distressed/About the blues that keep on haunting you.

 

You’re way down now/I can tell/What I call heaven, would surely be your hell/But they say you don’t know till you try and daddy that’s right.

 

"People feel trapped, and say to themselves this isn’t the life I’ve chosen,” Kase said. For years Kase has pushed his fingers to play the intricate acoustic blues of players like Reverend Gary Davis, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Like most acoustic blues players, Kase played the songs more or less like the originals. Those tunes are like hymns, hard to tinker with and improve. But the songs on So Glad I’m Livin’ were recorded by trios or piano plays so they merit a different approach. “It’s more personal,” Kase says. “These songs give you more freedom to create your own arrangement.” This disc shows Kase maturing, digging into new material, and singing both light and sweet, and down and gritty. Kase doesn’t aim to please his audience but to push them to appreciate music that’s lost in the dusty stacks of second-hand record stores in Detroit. Take a listen. One man playing a guitar and singing make a lot of music.

 

Written By Joel Grostephen, A freelance journalist in Minneapolis