What do Australia, South Louisiana, and the Mississippi Delta have in common? If you said “sugarcane,” you’d be correct, which is why the Aussie singer-guitarist who was born Andy Collins sports the nickname.
But he’d probably also want you to equate the blues with all three places, as well—Sugarcane the musician is regarded as an authentic representative of blues in his native region of Queensland, where the Barbary Coast pub scene is as musically demanding as only a seaport can be.
Going Back to Clarksdale is his first release available in the U.S., and as such it splits its itinerary between the Crescent City (where at least one song was recorded) and that titular epicenter of Delta Blues magic. Collins favors the jazzy stuff, at least vocally; he doesn’t have much of an instrument, but he’s good at playing up the carnal frustration inherent in “Trouble in Mind” and the blessed release of Blind Willie McTell’s “Baby It Must Be Love.” (He even knows enough to restore the original, explanatory opening verse to “St. James Infirmary.”)
However, as a guitar picker he clearly favors Delta legends like Son House and Charley Patton, and so he spends much of his American hello caught between two worlds, dividing his energies between two regions ironically divided by a mere “ten hour Greyhound ride.”
His three originals might have helped his focus, but they’re fairly generic, if genial: someone who captures the essence of Blind Willie as expertly as Sugarcane does should have more to say about the man in “Blind Willie” than “he was a rambling guy, and he kept on rambling till the day he died.”
Still, when he does manage to channel all the spirits at once with an accordion-fueled take on Mississippi John Hurt’s “Creole Belle,” you can almost see those sad-eyed Barbary pirates slowly poisoning themselves.