HIGH FREQUENCIES: With ‘Cotton Fields and Blood for Days,’ Abe Partridge reckons with the past

AJ Ghent explores the ‘Neo Blues’

Abe Merged
Photo credit: Cathy Partridge
PEACEMAKERS: 12” x 24” acrylics on tar board by Abe Partridge. Inset: Abe Partridge.

Abe Partridge comes from Mobile, AL. He’s a singer-songwriter, the kind you might call a “picker” if he came from Nashville. Yet, just when you think he’s going to pull a Townes Van Zandt or Guy Clark, his songwriting takes a left turn and his lyrics go searching through the back alleys of his mind.

On his new album, Cotton Fields And Blood For Days, his second, he sings about troubles, his, yours, the person’s in the cell next to you. He’s had his share, real ones, not First World problems, and his gravel-filled vocals confirm something’s wrong, as the words slither out of his mouth like a snake ready to strike. His lyrics are convincing, as if Partridge has some serious sins for which he must atone. He he knows all too well about sacrifice and salvation, or, at least trying to convince people to give up their life for God. Partridge was kicked in and out of four different theological schools before finally graduating, becoming an evangelical preacher, the fire and brimstone kind. At some point, his his senses got the best of him, and bible-thumping sent him into a deep depression. He left the church, traded in his pawn shop banjo for an acoustic guitar, and returned to the roots of rock ’n’ roll he’d left behind for the ministry. He may not have saved the souls of any of those in Kentucky who attended his preaching in a small Appalachian church, but he saved his own soul by getting out.

And he’ll be doing penance for a long time to get right — with himself.

Which is alright for you and me, because we get whatever he wrings out of his soul. With a wife and two children to support, and fresh out of a stint with the U.S. Air Force, including tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, Partridge’s folk art and music now help pay the bills. The artwork, acrylics on tar board, illustrate the discrepancies Partridge has observed in life, two-dimensional parables of a three-dimensional world. Rudimentary in execution, with phrases like “Colors are all that matter when you are already outside the lines” (also a line from the first song on his new album) or “Some songs put a devil in your flowers,” the paintings are dark, though not as dark as his songwriting. Unlike Tom Waits, to whom he’s often compared, the pictures this Alabama songwriter paints with words aren’t nostalgic throwbacks to imaginary times, creating a mood and a sense of belonging. Partridge’s narratives are more real life stuff, the outsider trying to find his place. There’s a sense of mixed-up confusion in the compositions, but within these exorcisms comes salvation.

In “The Ghosts of Mobile,” he sings of the port city’s past in the War Between the States,

Now Savannah
Is no longer burning
But Mobile is still haunted
As Admiral Semmes
Towers peering
Down to Dauphin

Where the living laugh in vain …

No it ain't hard
To find the devil in this town
Because them old grey ghosts
Won't stay in the ground
And I wish there was a way for us to put them all down

No it ain't hard to find the devil in this town …

And on their tombstones
It has been built
All this poor white man's guilt
And the faint
Justice howls
Cotton fields, and blood for days
Cotton fields, and blood for days
Cotton fields, and blood for days

As I said, Partridge carries on his shoulders a heavy cross, there’s a lot of atoning to be done.

The music on Cotton Fields And Blood For Days — Partridge’s acoustic guitar accented with stark and haunting atmospherics of feedback, looped electric guitar effects, cello and gated drums and percussion — only serves to reinforce the pathos of his lyrics. In “Colors,” a perfect post-modern love song, the instrumental tracks don’t serve to echo a personal hell as much as accentuate the positive sometimes obscured by life.

In “I Wish I was a Punk Rocker,” Partridge sings:

Rock stars get all the ladies, Best drugs, and top-shelf booze But they play just exactly whatever Them big record labels choose

They fill arenas and they count their money And do all the all the big stuff that rock stars do But a punk rocker will tell you the truth Because he's got nothing to lose …

If you are angry or a bit depressed And you ain't worried about being a star Just scream it like your heart is on fire And beat a guitar.

While Partridge maintains not all of his songs are autobiographical, that last verse aptly describes him — and his approach — up to now. To call Partridge a singer-songwriter/guitarist would be a disservice. He’s far more than that. He doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve, but rips out the one in his chest, displaying the still-pumping life source for anyone to see. Growing up with the Sex Pistols and Son House does that to a person.

Abe Partridge plays downstairs in the Atlanta Room at Smith’s Olde Bar, Sunday, Mar. 18, between headliner A.M. Rodriguez, a Texas native now calling Savannah home, and Cosmo Jr., the Athens band led by Dana Downs (Tone-Tones, Go Van Go, Vietnam) making its Atlanta debut. Cosmo Jr. also features the iconic Kevin Dunn (the Fans, the Regiment of Women) on guitar, bassist Ben Hesse and drummer Deborah Wall, the latter two having made music with Downs in the Adams Family Country Band and the Noseeums. Expect Cosmo Jr. to play songs from their Skies In The Star EP along with material from the Pirates-themed rock opera, Sisters In Arms, a work-in-progress. Of course, with Downs making the setlist, there’s sure to be at least one cover song among the originals. The posted showtime is an early 7 p.m.

The Fire Within Dept. … AJ Ghent celebrates the release of his EP, The Neo Blues Project, with a show Saturday night, March 17, at Eddie’s Attic. Ghent offers an old-time, finger-picking style on the lap pedal steel guitar, playing the eight-stringed instrument with a new approach, standing up, to allow him the dexterity needed to get over, under sideways, down with the usually stationary instrument.

Ghent was first exposed to many Atlantans in 2012, thanks to Col. Bruce Hampton and the Pharaoh Gummit (later Pharoah’s Kitchen). It was during a show at Smith’s Olde Bar that Hampton was pleased to showcase the younger Ghent, playing the sacred steel guitar alongside his father Aubrey Ghent. That night, the two created a joyful noise that left the Colonel with his mouth wide open. The next time I saw Ghent, he was flying solo, leading the band with a style of his own, developed from the lessons passed down from his great uncle, grandfather and father, each well-established with their own legacy playing the instrument.

The six songs on The Neo Blues Experiment are soulful R&B compositions, displaying the finesse of his playing with expressive lyrics that capture the heart and tug at the soul — when not making you want to get up on your feet and dance. But don’t think this Florida native stays on the funky side of the street. Whether playing the sacred slide or the more traditional six-string guitar, he also rocks hard, with tone and feeling, bringing to mind Revolution-era Prince and Jimi Hendrix’s explorations with the Band of Gypsys.

Old Skool dept. … While most people with a vinyl fetish are focusing on the Record Store Day releases set to hit independent shops April 21, those collecting records for the music get the chance to pick through a motherlode of hip-hop releases this Saturday at Criminal Records. The Little 5 Points store opens at 11 a.m. March 17 to unveil an extensive collection of hip-hop records recently acquired in their used department. Employees have diligently been processing the buy, estimated at easily over a thousand pieces of full-length LPs, 12-inchers, promos, and rarities from the late ’70s to the mid-’90s from many of the genre's most iconic artists. DJ Swivel will be spinning. You might want to get there early.

What decade is this? dept. … It’s one thing that the Zombies are playing City Winery this Friday, March 16. The ‘60s British Invasion band, known for the hits “Tell Her No,” “She’s Not There” and, of course, “Time of the Season,” has been touring seemingly non-stop for the past decade. But, to get an email this morning that tickets go on sale this week for Yardbirds, playing June 19 at the club at Ponce City Market, made me take another look at the calendar, or, at least google the band to find out who is in the 2018 touring version. Turns out original members Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja are at the helm, joined by a group of musicians with which Goldmine magazine claims, “the band’s hallmark of top-notch musicians remains.” Maybe so, but wouldn’t it be nice if Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page were along for the ride?

Contact Tony Paris regarding upcoming gigs; noteworthy news, rumor, and innuendo; or, if you just want to say, “Hi,” at cl.highfreqs@gmail.com, as you probably know he doesn’t read messages received on his Facebook account.


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