Rome Yamilov and Henry Kaiser‘s new album, The Lenoir Investigation, may have started as a tribute to Chicago blues great J.B. Lenoir, but the two guitarist’s worldly influences carry the 11 tracks around the globe. The album is out now via Little Village.
Henry Kaiser’s work in psychedelic guitar playing has few parallels, as the former Psychedelic Guitar Circus ringleader has played on over 300 albums and even used the South Pole—the pole mounted on Earth’s south geographic pole—as a slide to play Antarctic blues. Enter Rome Yamilov, the Russian-born guitarist who came to Little Village by way of harp player Aki Kumar through the San Jose blues scene.
Kaiser found in Yamilov a kindred soul, “amazing in his precociousness and the authenticity of his playing.” They also found in each other a mutual admiration of J.B. Lenoir. Born in Mississippi in 1929, Lenoir knocked around New Orleans before moving to Chicago in 1949 and carved out a niche in the burgeoning blues scene. A lack of touring coupled with a fatal car accident in 1967 as well as lyrics pertaining to the Korean War and civil rights movement kept Lenoir in relative obscurity, but Kaiser and Yamilov found in the late bluesman the perfect starting place for their sonic explorations.
The Lenoir Investigation is not merely a dutiful recreation of Lenoir’s catalog. Instead, Kaiser and Yamilov—along with June Core (drums), Kid Anderson (bass), and Jim Pugh (keys)—take the Chicago blues on an international, and at times interdimensional, voyage. The two guitarists, with Rome as the primary vocalist, tap into their global influences to not only update Lenoir’s music but also culture it in a diverse array of styles.
Take the opening “The Whale Has Swallowed Me”. The song begins as a fairly standard Biblical blues alliteration to Jonah and the Whale. When the song opens up for improvisation, however, it picks up a ska bounce that devolves into echoes and feedback indicative of early Jamaican dub music.
“Let’s hear the dub land on top of the ska live, with our guitar pedals, instead of the typical studio trickery,” Kaiser observed.
More stylistic cross-pollination abounds, as Kaiser and Yamilov imbue “Feel So Good” with what Henry referred to as a “late period Meters” vibe.
“We had to have a funk piece, and there is very little funkier than New Orleans and The Meters,” Rome observed.
The musical translations turn literal on “Play A Little While”, as the group not only transforms the song into a Peruvian psychedelic cumbia but also sings the lyrics in Norwegian. Bassist Kid Anderson takes lead vocals on this one, as it is his native tongue. The Lenoir Investigation also hosts a cover of Bo Diddley‘s “Rollercoaster”, which ultimately sails into a rendition of J.B.’s “Mojo Boogie” by way of a Tuareg influence from the North African Saharan tribe.
Plenty more stylistic voyages abound on The Lenoir Investigation, with Henry Kaiser and Rome Yamilov dropping pins in countries all over the world. By stamping the 11 tracks with the marks of myriad genres and civilizations, Kaiser and Yamilov create a document legible in the universal language of music.
Stream The Lenoir Investigation via the player below or on your preferred listening platform.
Henry Kaiser, Rome Yamilov – The Lenoir Investiation