Musings about the blues: unless young people play the old time blues, it will wither on the vine with the ‘60s and ‘70s generation that is by now aged in the their 60s and 70s. More women should also play. The perfect combination: More young women blues singers.
Here is a good one, some Norse blues way over there in Enköping, Sweden, near Stockholm, by someone you probably don’t know, Felicia Jangard Nielsen who calls herself Shoutin’ Red. She took that weird stage name because she said it fit because her skin condition gives her red rosy cheeks. She is a young woman of rare ability in her twenties who plays mostly around Stockholm but has ventured to the UK and to the US, playing and studying at Port Townsend, and learning from folks like Dom Flemons, Jerron Paxton and Lightning Wells.
The loveable Nielsen sings in a melancholy high, unique voice, forlorn and ethereal, reminiscent of some Blue Ridge Mountain girl singing ancient folk songs. No matter what she sings, with her exotically different style, it is always with a tinge of sadness. There is a compelling innocence to her singing, a mysterious shroud. It’s not typically beautiful, kind of thin, but lovely and pure, so unpretentious. It’s a natural folk voice, compelling and individualist, but when set against her guitar skills her musicality comes alive. This girl can play some guitar! Her songs have an alluring immediacy, a sense of wistful fragility that makes the old blue seem even older, even more mysterious.
Her exquisite guitar chops as a Piedmont style fingerpicker can raise eyebrows. She has a great tone and wonderful walking bass technique, and no matter how refined and spot-on her picking, she manages to maintain a rough-hewn edge.
Nielsen’s repertoire, somehow always made up of old songs at their most winsome, reflective, and longing, cover the gamut of prewar blues, including esoteric songs like Wayward Girl by Lottie Kimbrough. Like most woman blues singer she is partial to Memphis Minnie, but she has done her homework over the last decade studying the greats of the past. It’s great to see her videos playing her Stella, Washburn Parlor and Gibson Jumbo, and it’s delightful to hear this young woman’s passionate versions of these great old songs. She lists Robert Wilkins, Lead Belly, Washboard Sam, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Henry Thomas and Bessie Smith as inspiration, as well as contemporary players like Jerron Paxton and Frank Fairfield.
Lately she has picked up the fiddle and delved a bit into her own culture, playing traditional Swedish folk songs. Yet, she professes a deep connection with the blues, and stated that the sadness of this genre affected her as a young girl listening to her parents record collection. When the blues get a hold of you it never lets go, and, like hundreds of other musicians worldwide, the irrationality of a Swedish girl singing blues does not matter . She’s got the true blues in her soul and that’s that. Nothing can shake it.
“I try to remember the special history of the blues. If you play this music you have to relate to the experience of black people who suffered slavery and oppression, You have to respect the music and its origin to try to do it justice and to have respect for those who wrote the tunes. I keep that in my mind.”
With that thinking she will make it. Her self-produced CD is called “Introducing Shoutin’ Red” but it will be easier to see her on YouTube. She’s someone worth knowing. Felicia can play. She’s a talent to be reckoned with, and the best is yet to come.