Spencer Bohren

Saturday, February 15; Focal Point

The ten long years known as the 1970s were, among other things, the epoch of white-boy blues. When the middle class of America rediscovered living blues masters in the '60s, the results ranged from astonishing to appalling. Every Eric Clapton was matched by two wankers with a whammy bar. Spencer Bohren is another story. Born and reared in Wyoming, Bohren learned at the feet of Reverend Gary Davis and eventually settled in the Crescent City, where he further absorbed American roots music. Zealously committed to the blues, in both its white and black traditions, Bohren may be the best guitarist (electric and acoustic) no one has heard of. A paragraph or two isn't about to correct that, but anyone who still believes the blues is more than a reason to get drunk in Soulard needs to pay attention to Bohren.

Like Ry Cooder, Bohren plays a chilling, atmospheric slide style, and like Cooder (but unlike most of their peers), Bohren tempers his approach with a devotion to gospel, the essential root (and most forgotten key) to even hell-hounded geniuses Robert Johnson and Skip James. Latter-day followers may take the gospel source out of their guitar idols, but Bohren cranks it up. In that respect, Bohren's closest living analog might be Martin Simpson, though even that approximation seems unfair. Bohren is a killer banjo player and an even better singer. In the intimate, acoustically superb setting of the Focal Point, he will transfix you.