Stickman [aka Neil Haverstick]
Hide & Seek
Compared to most bluesmen, Neil Haverstick approaches his craft unconventionally but in a way blues needs more of. He’s certainly rooted in the genre, as evidenced by the crunchy, in-your-face shuffle of “Blues Ain’t Nothin’.” However, on “Goin’ to Memphis,” he ingeniously borrows a rhythm from Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” and plays it on an oud, a middle-eastern, fretless stringed instrument that resembles a mutant, mangled mandolin. Toss in a few wooden flutes, fluttering sticks, mumbling foreign voices and djembes and conceptually the track suggests that this is a Memphis to Memphis (Egypt) type odyssey. Haverstick plays the oud on two other tracks including “Blues Delta” that’s essentially a call-and-response between the oud and fretless guitar. A similar conversational interaction occurs on “Blues Ain’t Nothin’” where a jagged electric guitar weaves in and out of a steady, throbbing bass string strum.
The ingenious title track comes from a children’s hide-and-seek game and has three movements. The first movement finds Haverstick chanting
24 robbers at my door
I got up
let ’em in
hit them on the head with a rolling pin!
to a steady hand clap. An ethereal voice echoes various sentences asynchronously, symbolizing the faraway voice of childhood. The chanting ends, a kamikaze djembe mounts its assault, followed by an aggressive oud for the second movement. Finally, Haverstick comes barreling in with one of his fretless, electric guitars just shredding it, but never drowning out the oud that’s clearly audible. At the solo’s apex, he’s so high up the neck that it sounds, albeit momentarily, like clanking pipes.
Throughout the proceedings, an esoteric theme surfaces—fretless instruments can make everything sound as if it were in a minor key but it’s really just a choice of scales. The resulting effect is a slightly dark but blues-friendly ambiance.
Of course, not everything is fretless and microtonal. Haverstick’s still a product of his generation, meaning he like to rock out. “Animal Boogie” begins with rolling drums and jogging bass, followed by jazzy, chord-outlining electric guitar and eventually a rockish electric guitar that soars and swoops everywhere but staying on the safer side of beyond.
If the proceedings aren’t diversified enough, Haverstick plucks a fairly driving fretless banjo on “Big Ol’ Train” and pays homage to jazz guitar great Lenny Breau (“Lenny Bro”). Not recommended for pedestrian listeners. [I don’t think most of our listeners are. -ed]
—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)
Here he is with a crazy 22-tone guitar:
And here he is just playing some blues on an acoustic guitar: