12Gage is a solo artist who has evolved into playing all the instruments on his own home recorded endeavors. A blues artist with a folk and rock twist, 12Gage predominantly makes music that he wants to hear. He doesn’t bend to market trends or flashy modern gimmickry which is both a defining and a polarizing element. In short, his album “Baron of the Blues” is not aimed at the quick thrill searching masses. A long term project that was finished after losing everything in hurricane Michael, this album is filled with personal life experiences. Winner of the 2019 Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival Music contest, 12Gage’s unusual low-key singing and clever fretwork is able to avoid creating tedious music often associated with the singer-songwriter stereotype.
12Gage’s songwriting, while crisp and fitting, is more about creating rhythms that the instruments can then build upon. When done correctly you have solid grooves that the artist will often highlight by subtle guitar runs full of syncopation throughout.
On this album 12Gage is not trying to declare that he is a guitar master who shreds better than the rest but rather that he is able to get as much expression out of his instrument as even the great players, regardless of speed or volume.
My impression is that 12Gage has a humble disposition, as his music delivers that kind of aesthetic – nothing immediately jumps out in your face, but rather grows on you via multiple plays. It’s a seemingly unassuming, but more profound approach to music making. 12Gage can be considered a master of understatement, because on “Baron of the Blues” he does understated better than anybody else in the genre.
He puts just enough oomph and groove into his songs to make it captivatingly hypnotic, while at the same time remaining the coolest customer around. No wild electrifying guitar solos, no bombastically driven rhythms, and no soaring vocals – tasteful understatement is 12Gage’s hallmark throughout these songs.
There’s just enough urgency to keep you looked in as he performs with consummate finesse. And yet, strangely enough, the album kicks off with a certain fiery electric verve on the live-sounding “Angel to my Devil”, and the gritty, upbeat “Apple Pie”. “Blue Baby Blues” is where 12Gage slides into his resonating groove.
“Where’s We Gwine (Cancer Sucks)” is another nice one; the guitar intro is really cool. 12Gage repeats the words “cancer sucks, cancer blows” in a world-weary lowdown whisper, and his habitual restraint on guitar is a thing of beauty. Laid back and loaded with integrity, 12Gages voice flows atop a busy under-stream of beating drums, pianos, and lamenting guitars.
12Gage songs are so catchy and his relaxed singing vibe so enticing, he is generally immune from the regular types of criticism. Moving forward, we bump into contrasts like “Doze Blues” and “Evil Blues”, where there’s excellence at both ends of the stylistic spectrum — and everything in between.
The lazy, laid-back shuffle of “Fallen World”, and then the simplicity and the minimal groove of “Hitman Blues” is even more poignant than what came before. 12Gage’s guitar playing throughout is essential, never playing a note that doesn’t need to be played.
“The Last I Love You” is dominated by the piano, while “Make me Smile” ups the tone and rhythm. Flashes of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground come to mind here. Drums and harmonica come very much alive on the propulsive “My Own Thing”, and “Shivers” hovers around an eerie bass-driven darkness.
By the time the album closes with “Shot Across The Bow”, it’s clear that this 14 track recording is jam-packed with unfamiliar and atypical riffs, strum patterns, licks, rhythms and lyrical phrases. The appealing easy-going nonchalance of his songwriting is always masterful, but not accessible to the pleasures of all.
12Gage himself acknowledges that fact, and probably wouldn’t want it any other way. While many other artists seek to emulate trends, 12Gage navigates his own lane, where few can do it better.