By John Benson
A perfect combination of talents is how blues guitarist Anthony Gomes describes his recently released effort, “... Before the Beginning,” which marks his debut into the world of unplugged music.
“Sometimes people think of acoustic as just a single guitar and somebody singing, but it’s a full band, only all acoustic instruments — stand-up bass, drums,” said Gomes, calling from St. Louis. “We’re so known for being vibrant and high energy and ripping guitar, I wanted to show our audience and critics that if you took all of that away, there’s still something underneath all of that. We put a lot of effort into songwriting and singing. So it’s sort of a triple threat. It’s not just about the guitar playing.”
Songs that the Canadian bluesman points to as defining “... Before the Beginning” include “Lady Soul,” “Blues is Good” and “Golden Wings.” Overall, Gomes said the album marks a digression, taking on more of a gospel influence. Just think Ray Charles’ Atlantic Records years mixed with Blind Boys of Alabama and even Taj Mahal.
A detour away from straight blues has been Gomes’ modus operandi in recent years. Such was the case with his 2009 album “New Soul Cowboys.” The one-off side project found the guitarist experimenting in something he called a “southern rock, blues-country hybrid” that left some die-hard fans feeling as though they were being betrayed by their previously blues-focused artist.
It’s this notion of being defined strictly as a bluesman that has left Gomes feeling as though he was trapped in a corner. And just like a trapped animal, he did whatever he had to in order to get out alive.
“The real problem with the blues is it’s so rooted in tradition and marketed as the beginning of everything,” Gomes said. “Hey man, rock ’n’ roll came from the blues. So if you divert much from the traditional form, you’re seen as somehow not being legitimate.”
Gomes feels that what happened 50 years ago was fresh 50 years ago but isn’t necessarily the case today. Sure, the legends and innovators played with fire; however, he feels many of his peers are just going through the motions.
“Now I see these traditional guys, and they’ve all done their homework, but there’s no real passion or fire there because it’s not new,” Gomes said. “It’s sort of like a Civil War re-enactment. Everyone dresses up and wears clothes, but it’s not real. I think for music to be real, it has to be on the cutting edge, and it has to do some things that may shock an audience or push their way of thinking.”
That’s where “... Before the Beginning” comes into play. To further explain his decision behind the album, Gomes uses a somewhat odd but nevertheless apt analogy that clearly he thought up somewhere along his incessant touring schedule.
“It’s sort of like the shower curtain in the hotel,” Gomes said. “Some of them have that curtain that’s wider and goes around as opposed to a straight bar. We kind of made the bar a bit more round. It’s still a shower curtain, but it’s a little bit different.”
Northeast Ohio fans of Gomes will get a chance to shower in his new music when the blues artist returns to Youngstown on Friday for a free outdoor show at Party on the Plaza, in front of Warehouse 50 on Central Square, downtown.
“We have beer, blues, sunshine, Youngstown, Ohio,” Gomes said. “It’s like a perfect combination.”