Although spoken-word, this album is not poetry with music but rather straight, unrhymed prose with blues band. Sinclair — former MC5 manager, White Panther Party founder, and current New Orleans DJ, writer, and personality — declaims his blues scholarship with the kind of jaunty, good-humored swagger that’s made his Boston tour stops treasured events for a small, loyal following. He’s at his best when his narratives dip into the particulars of Mississippi Delta life and blues history, the travelogue of names — Tunica, Tutwiler, Clarksdale — being the life stories of blues ancestors like Howlin’ Wolf, Tommy Johnson, Sunnyland Slim, and Sonny Boy Williamson. His stories lose some of their bite when he dilutes them with didactic generality about slavery and the land where the blues was born, and he has a tendency to use the word "peoples," but he makes up for these lapses when he tells us about Johnson’s apprenticeship and that original meeting of musician and devil at those famous crossroads, or when he introduces the story of Slim by connecting the gospel of "This Train" with Little Walter’s "My Babe" and winds his way back to Slim’s namesake, the Sunnyland Train, concluding, "He traveled fast and could be dangerous." Sinclair even has a charming, scholarly way of crediting his sources, name-checking writers like Robert Palmer and Pete Welding as he goes. Guitarists Bill Lynn, Everette Eglin, and Jeff Baby Grand twine smoky, chugging rhythms and train-whistle slide, the grooves are propulsive, and there are even female back-up singers to give support on a few tracks. All of which probably owes a lot to the expert production of R&B legend Andre Williams.
(John Sinclair performs with the Devil Gods this Monday, October 7, at Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street in Harvard Square; call 617-492-7679. Then on October 17, Sinclair and the Devil Gods will appear at the Squawk Coffeehouse in Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church, 1555 Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square; call 617-354-0837.)