21 February, Bill Shaw's Woolshed
By Ian Thomas
Names of shearers, rousies, and wool-pressers are marked into the boards that form the backdrop of this stage. We are in present-day Te Awanga but the setting easily lends itself to an older era in the southern states of the US. How appropriate then that C.W. Stoneking is the reincarnation of several 1930s American blues performers. If you don’t believe in reincarnation, well y’all haven’t seen a Stoneking concert. He’s the embodiment of his influences, both physically and musically. The part American – mainly Aussie – drawl he greets us with is such that I’m expecting him to spit tobacco onto the old shed floor. It’s the type of slow drawl that easily disguises Stoneking’s sharp wit and perfect comic timing. His voice is powerful, gravely and distinctive. It’s important to state that Stoneking isn’t an impersonator or a covers man. His persona and music are all his own. He’s just immersed in those old blues.
Stoneking sits in front of us, slicked back hair and collarless shirt, on a stool as he plays guitar, guiding us on a journey through the music of his three albums whilst referencing his influencers. The spoken word intro of a couple of hobos talking about jumping the train and shifting to the country is what Stoneking describes as a duet. He plays both parts. We’re taken back to the Field Holler of slaves in the 1870s with the song ‘Adam and Eve’. Multiple tracks from the acclaimed albums Gon Boogaloo, Jungle Blues, and King Hokum blend blues authenticity with originality. ‘Handyman Blues’ is inspired by Stoneking’s time as a handy man when he learned to look busy by carrying a tool around with him. His story telling between songs is laugh-out-loud funny. His timing of punch lines impeccable. The audience are really into him. The murder ballad ‘The Love Me Or Die’ is a diversion into trad jazz. Stoneking adds a little of his own trumpet without the aid of a trumpet. Later he adds a few jungle sounds of his own without the aid of a monkey. He’s a showman. The audience clap, stamp, and cheer their approval. They’ve been treated to something special. A musician living in several moments in different times, blending all of those moments for us with seeming ease.