CW Stoneking’s Jungle Blues

by Frank Matheis © 2009

CW Stoneking
Jungle Blues
King Hokum Records
2008

It took about a year after its original release date of the immensely talented Australian bard’s “Jungle Book” to make its way around the world.

So young a career, and already “Jungle Blues” is a redemption of sorts. CW Stoneking, the self-proclaimed “King of Hokum”, had overdone the hokum in his previous release by that same name, to the point where it became a question whether CW Stoneking had lost his marbles. Granted, the very nature of hokum is humorous, satirical nonsense flimflam, hookey, jazz, malarkey, and worst. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. Right? You would have to be without a sense of humor not to laugh, unless of course, you were black, and that’s where the fun turned sour. CW, an Australian with American ancestry, is white as snow. Yet, in “King Hokum” he mimicked stereotypical black American Gullah dialects and played a theatrical, Vaudevillian roles that attempted to portray an act. The problem was that it was an insurmountable cross-cultural, over-the-top gaffe of talking-black, as if CW had no understanding of the sensitivities of black Americans, who deeply despise these forms of portrayals as racist. Legitimately, black folks in America object to being ridiculed by acts that are reminiscent of the black-face minstrels. It is a real problem if a blues lover has to remove half-the songs from a CD in fear that one of those tunes would inadvertently pop up on the i-pod in front of one of his black friends. Seemingly, CW had no concept how his CD would be perceived in America. The reviewer, for one, was simply flabbergasted at the outrageous lack of understanding. Unintentional racism is racism, nonetheless, albeit maybe not a capital crime if the accused pleads ignorance. “I’m from down under. We don’t know this.” I can buy that.
Still, it was clear that the Aussie bluesman was a little genius, although perhaps a mad one.

OK, somebody must have had a talk with the superlative blueser. Out comes “Jungle Blues” a masterpiece worthy of serious contention for Country-Blues Album of the Year. Sheer joy! CW kept up his theatrical thematic but cut out the over-the-top blunders.
The paradigm has shifted. Once freed from the chains of all-that-bad-stuff, we can concentrate on the amazing creativity and substance of the genius storyteller CW Stoneking. Simply brilliant—a virtual audio theater play, filled with fun and exciting music that incorporates elements of early 20th Century Caribbean Calypso and Vaudeville, early Dixieland jazz and deep country blues. Accompanied by his equally crazy wife, Kirsty Fraser, on vocals, he assembled a band that might as well have stepped right out of 1928.

In many ways, CW Stoneking is comparable to a young Leon Redbone. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Could there be anyone like Leon? There wasn’t until now.
CW likes to yodel like Jimmie Rodgers, break into falsettos like Redbone and looks like he just stepped out of an old period movie set—like maybe “The Sting” or “Bonnie and Clyde”. He really looks the part, complete with the hair close cropped on the sides, the garb from head to toe. Like Leon, he is always in the act, dressed up for the part. He plays old parlour guitars, resonators and other old time guitars and in every conceivable way gives you the retro act. The result is a farcical journey into the jungles of Africa by explorers who meet the strangest adventures, and listeners are treated to a boundlessly exciting musical joyride.

Nonetheless, hardcore traditional music fans will be easily able to trace his derivative, but that’s all good for fans of the traditional and preservationists of the old-time sound. If blues fans were worried about the true origins of songs, who takes credit and who the actual songwriter was, they wouldn’t be listening to this type of music.

Fans of the 1930s music will swoon over this, and infectious diddies like “Talkin’ Lion Blues” will lock themselves unshakably into their heads– and they will enjoy ever minute of it. It is so old, yet so new; so ridiculous, yet so much fun!