Jim Morrison used to talk about the crossroads as a place in southern mythology where magic happened. Ray Manzarek and Roy Rogers’ “Translucent Blues” is at the crossroads where the blues meets rock ‘n’ roll.
Ray Manzarek has always been attracted to literate-minded lyrics and “Translucent Blues” is no different, having songs contributed by Jim Carroll, Warren Zevon (both of whom worked with Manzarek before their deaths), Michael C Ford, and beat poet Michael McClure. And it’s not only Manzarek at the crossroads, since one of the Warren Zevon songs has the music attributed to Rogers.
Manzarek seems to have musical references to The Doors, as “New Dodge City Blues” has undercurrents of “Love Her Madly.” Is “Fives and Ones” a reference to The Doors “Five to One?” Maybe, but what it is is a blues song with a traditional subject of having a roll of bills in your pocket. And the musical references aren’t limited to The Doors. If you’re familiar with Manzarek’s post-Doors albums from the ’70s you’ll also hear some musical references to that period of Manzarek’s career as well. Some of these blues touch on jazz too. “Kick”, lyrics by Michael McClure, has tinges of jazz in it, plus some of the most consciously poetic lyrics on the CD.
Neither Rogers nor Manzarek are going to be noted for their dulcet tones or mellifluous singing, and sometimes Manzarek pushes his vocal abilities a little too far, such as on “Game of Skill.” However, both have rough-hewn voices of the old bluesmen, and that’s where Manzarek and Rogers might be: they’re now the old bluesmen they admired in their youth.
“Translucent Blues”, despite the somewhat cool title for the CD, is mostly uptempo, good-time blues in the vein of “Roadhouse Blues.” The songs are divided pretty equally between Manzarek and Rogers, with Manzarek having the more rock-oriented songs and Rogers has the more traditionally blues songs. Rogers’ guitar is a strident voice on this album, sometimes pounding it out, and at other times laying back and delivering a counterpoint to Manzarek’s keyboards. Both Manzarek and Rogers are accomplished musicians who know how to rock, even on the blues, and both play on all the songs throughout the CD. The album has a nice coherent sound and feeling throughout.
You don’t have to be a Doors fan or have prior knowledge of Rogers’ work with John Lee Hooker. “Translucent Blues” is something new for each waiting and deserving fan on its own terms. A couple of the criteria I use for reviewing are: will I remember this? And do I want to listen to this again? I can answer “yes” to both for “Translucent Blues.”
“Translucent Blues” is available at Amazon and other retailers.
Originally published May 24, 2011.