Curtis Salgado knows how to sing the blues. He’s lived a helluva lot of blues. “I’ve been cut from stem to stern,” he sings on his 2016 album The Beautiful Lowdown. He’s singing about defying death (and multiple surgeries) — but being cut open does not always fix a broken heart. That’s when singing the blues heals best.
“I Will Not Surrender,” he sings to open Rough Cut, his new album with guitarist Alan Hager. Been there. Done that. And he’s not done.
Trains roll all across and through the new album. Trains that carry a freight of love far away. And no train hurts more than the Son House's "Depot Blues,” one of several classic songs that Salgado revisits with Hager, a long-time friend around the Portland scene. One can hear the engine thunder from Hager’s strings — complete with groaning rails and blinding steam.
After several decades playing together, Hager joined Salgado’s band in 2015. “Alan is the best player in the business,” says Salgado. And on the new album, Hager brings out the best in another of the best. Salgado the harp master. Salgado the truly soulful singer.
“This is where our hearts are,” says Salgado about the new album. “These are deep songs that we love to play.” A Big Bill Broonzy song, “I Want You By My Side.” A Sonny Boy Williamson song, “Too Young to Die.” A Muddy Waters song, “ I Can’t Be Satisfied” — with Hager's strings rambunctiously crackling like a burning bush.
And through all the troubles and trains Salgado sings about, one can also hear a saving grace in his life and his music: that he's laughing at Fate. Life is not always a bowl of cherries. Life, sings Curtis, is sometimes only "a bowl of old soup” — but if you’re going to “Hell in a Handbasket,” sings Curtis, heat it up! With pepper!
Most heartening of all the songs on the new album is “I Want My Dog To Live Longer.” He can wish for fame and fortune, he sings. And for romance. And having all of his fantasies fulfilled. He can hope for peace in the world, he sings — but what’s better than being happy and at home with his most loving loved one? “I don’t care where his nose has been,” sings Curtis. “I let him lick my face again and again.”
Rough Cut is an album that Curtis Salgado and Alan Hager always have wanted to make. And now they happily have. “This music moves us the most,” says Curtis. “You believe it when you hear it.”
1) I Will Not Surrender
2) So Near To Nowhere
3) One Night Only
4) I Want My Dog To Live Longer
5) I Can't Be Satisfied
6) Too Young To Die
7) Depot Blues
8) Morning Train
9) You Got To Move
10) Hell In A Handbasket
11) Long Train Blues
12) The Gift Of Robert Charles
13) I Want You By My Side