Singer-Songwriter/Guitarist DURAN’s ’30 Scratchy Backroad Blues’ is a Genuine Gem

Born in Japan and raised in the Philippines, singer-songwriter/guitarist DURAN started playing the piano at the age of three and picked up the guitar at 14 under the influence of his bassist father. Regarded as a prodigy in the contemporary rock scene and recognized as one of Japan’s great guitarists, he’s recently released his fourth album and latest offering of formidable fuzz and emotionally charged singing/playing: 30 Scratchy Backroad Blues

Conjuring up the ghost of Robert Johnson, opener “Look Behind You” masters the art of making the guitar cry and sets the tone for the album with its chugging rhythms. The song finds DURAN using a slide bar that once belonged to the late guitarist Mikio Fujioka (of Babymetal). “It’s about a guy being chased by something mysterious. Maybe what’s chasing him is his own shadow,” he says of the song.

“Jojo’s Echo Blues,” the lead single from the album, has blues in its title and coursing through its veins, but elegant sax flourishes make quite the jazzy entrance. Then at about the minute and a half mark as tempo increases, you’ll wish you were already down in Louisiana on a hardwood dance floor, tripping the light fantastic. “They’re Red Hot” re-imagines and restores a Robert Johnson classic to shiny, red 1966 T-Bird status as June Yamagishi, a Japanese guitarist based in New Orleans, lends his true blue tone and Queen Pepper with Mark Velmonte contribute zestful vocals.

Ilana Katz Katz, who simultaneously occupies space in the firmament of blues and Appalachian fiddle, has such improvisational and melodic chemistry with DURAN that it’s a wonder the two have never even met. While on the search for veritable blues recordings, he found Ilana’s work by chance. After reaching out to her, they collaborated on a song remotely from their respective homes of Japan and New England.

The finished product is “Too Late, You Waste,” a vintage-sounding Delta lament and an exercise in listening for individual instruments in a song but also for the subtle interplay between them. Ilana Katz Katz’ fiddle unobtrusively follows the rhythm, but after a bold-as-brass refrain of the chorus which DURAN sings more stoically accepting than despairing, her fiddle suddenly takes charge to such great effect that the song takes on another dimension of dynamics and colors.

’30 Scratchy Backroad Blues’ cover

“Red House” does Jimi Hendrix’s signature blues song with signature blues runs justice, with reverberant singing for good measure. “Mary Jane Blues” is a jaunty shuffle, a charming instrumental that immediately perks up the listener’s ears and won’t let go, courtesy of MASAE on upright bass and DURAN’s flamenco-fast fingers. 

“The Bone Chilling” lives up to its name and at the same time exhales a deep and diaphragmatic breath, letting the storm from within out in one slow and cathartic burn, while “Shades of Night” howls at the moon in a percussive build-up. DURAN and his 1963 Harmony guitar take us “Down the Dirt Road Blues,” paying homage to Charley Patton, while the subsequent renegade instrumental wends its way down winding “Solitary Muddy Trails” and makes an unexpected sharp turn opening up into clean, beautiful sandy shores. A rock and roll heaven of echo-chambered surf tone, tremolo, and reverb where Dick Dale lives on.

“Zankon: Devil Talkin’ Blues” is a steady and forceful wind over delicate cymbal work and tuneful Guns N’ Roses-esque whistling, coming to a standstill before a cappella arrangements of singing and clapping. 30 Scratchy Backroad Blues closes with his most personal song on the album, the mellow and mournful “Through My Hands.”

DURAN continues his evolution as well as his mission to bring American blues to Japan, where the genre is still an outlier. And from Japan he funnels this energy into his unique blend of electric blues/rock and roll pushed to the outermost limits – bringing us his most fully realized and intricate album to date. 

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