Elliott Sharp’s Terraplane: Sky Road Songs

Terraplane is the vehicle by which Downtown NYC guitarist-composer Elliott Sharp plumbs the blues. It’s not a casual flirtation: From the first Terraplane disc in 1994 up through this sixth recording, Sharp has demonstrated an authentic affinity for the timeless essence of the music. At its best, as when saxophonist Sam Furnace was prominent on Blues for Next in 2000, Terraplane melded Sharp’s delight in both Sun Ra and Sleepy John Estes to create skronking interstellar country-blues, extending the road from the Mississippi Delta up through Chicago and on out to Saturn.

Sky Road Songs is more down to earth-slightly tilted toward the more pedestrian blues-rock end of the spectrum-but not without ample charms. First and foremost, Sharp remains a riveting and remarkably comprehensive blues guitarist and conceptualist, comfortable with slithery slide licks, back-porch pluck-and-strum, Hendrixian meteor trails and alley-cat howls. Vocalist and lyricist Eric Mingus (son of Charles) has dramatically improved his range. He sounds more like a blues singer than a poet trying to pass on both the wailing tales of heartbreak and the exhausted and ethereal title track that is the record’s thematic centerpiece. The horns of trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and bari saxophonist Alex Harding create a delightful racket on a clutch of songs (from “Fade to Noir” to “The Common Extreme”) in the middle of the disc. And this final session of Hubert Sumlin-the venerable guitarist for Howlin’ Wolf and a frequent Terraplane cohort-is classic blues smolder in tandem with Sharp that does justice to Sumlin’s legacy.