Looking Up Feeling Down
Paul Wassif is a name that may not be familiar to many, but he's been around for some time, most recently playing on Bert Jansch's last two albums, as well as touring with Jansch. And it was Eric Clapton no less who gave him the encouragement he needed to take the plunge to make this, his first solo album. Wassif has assembled an album that's always easy to listen to, albeit one that shows promise rather than actually delivering a knockout punch.
Wassif will no doubt gain attention from the fact that this album features Clapton and Jansch playing together for the first time ever on a couple of songs. Such illustrious company must be a trifle intimidating for any guitarist, but Wassif stands up well to the challenge. In addition to demonstrating a delicate mastery of acoustic, electric and slide guitars, he also turns his hand to dobro, banjo and mandolin. Given the influence of Jansch and Clapton, it's no surprise that musically he draws inspiration from both folk and blues traditions, which he couples with a rough-hewn singing voice, reminiscent at times of Mark Knopfler.
As a songwriter, it sounds like he's still developing, and that's probably the biggest question mark over how much success Wassif will have. Of the twelve tracks here, just six are self-written, and of those two are instrumentals. Of the self-composed songs, “Please Don't Leave” is probably the best, certainly is has a nagging chorus guaranteed to have you humming it for the rest of the day: Daddy don't go to work today, We've got everything we need, Please don't leave. “Just For You” is almost as good, with a plucked mandolin opening soon joined by some lovely steel guitar and Wassif's character-filled, if somewhat croaky, voice.
The remaining six tracks are a mixture of traditional songs and cover versions. The inherent danger with much-covered songs is to invite comparison with those that have come before. So Wassif's easy-going, loping version of the Delmore Brothers' “Blues, Stay Away From Me”, while fine in it's own right, will suffer by comparison for those familiar with The Band's version.
All in all, Looking Up Feeling Down offers an admirable, but never essential, listening experience, and Wassif should perhaps look to further develop his songwriting as his best hope to increase his impact in the future.