Little Louis
"Speak Of The Devil"
"A Close Watch"
by Johanna J. Bodde

LITTLE LOUIS   "Speak Of The Devil"   (Inbetweens Records) and

Some people are born to perform and we call them affectionately "stage-animals". Louis van Empel is one of them for sure! Recently I attended a mini-concert he played for a radiostation in my hometown with his bassist Geurt Engelsman and I was blown away... People here still talk about his "foot stomp", basically a piece of wood with a car speaker attached: "It drinks less beer than a drummer!" Various songs off his new album "Speak Of The Devil" were featured, so I knew what to expect and this is a fabulous album indeed!
Louis went back to his blues roots, in 1994 he already started gaining quite a regional reputation with his first Little Louis Blues Band. Until he couldn't fit all his various musical influences into the regular blues band's repertoire anymore and started his group Louis!. Especially third album "A Close Watch" got a lot of well-deserved compliments. Let's not forget the fact that Louis is also one-fourth of Songwriters United, the other three are Bart Jan Baartmans, Eric van Dijsseldonk and Eric DeVries; they even do theatre tours in The Netherlands together. Sharing the stage with Mississippi bluesman David "Honeyboy" Edwards must have been a wonderful inspiration as I hear a lot of excellent countryblues (with slide-guitar!) on the new CD, the original songs are described as "raw delta-blues and dark americana". Most instruments, including pump organ, are being played by Louis himself. There was apparently enough beer for a drummer in the studio, as Gabriel Peeters played on several tracks, we hear Geurt Engelsman on upright bass and Aart van der Wulp adds harmonica to one song.
I know how darned hard it is to write authentic sounding lyrics in our second language English, but Louis did an astonishing good job here, he constantly improves himself. "Land Of The Free" instantly knocks us over, up-tempo, with the line "Well I heard the ship is sinking and the lifeboats have been sold" and there are only more great ones to come. "Those Who Fell" is a beautifully arranged stand-out slow song: "No place to sleep but under the statue that was raised for those who fell". And yes, the devil pops up his ugly head every now and then too... I guess it all comes down to this: Little Louis is a Big blues personality!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, January 2007.
LOUIS!   "A Close Watch"   (CoraZong Records)

In The Netherlands slowly but surely a real Americana scene developed, full of musicians with their very own sound. CoraZong Records supports it with various releases of these "local artists" and that's good... Louis! is not only singer-songwriter Louis van Empel, from the Southern province Brabant, he has gathered six experienced players around him for the recording of this album "A Close Watch". In the goodlooking pictures that were used for the lay-out, we see them all concentrate on their musical task. Louis himself is not just another guitarist but a virtuoso on those strings, also the sitar, banjo and mandolin come along, while Roel Spanjers is doing his own extra-ordinary thing on the grand piano, accordion, Wurlitzer and Hammond organ. Those two tenor saxophones -played by Rinus Groeneveld and Arend Bouwmeester- are the big plus here!
Louis has some gravel on the vocal chords, he makes us think for a moment of Randy Newman, Leon Redbone or Lyle Lovett. The musical arrangements are fascinating and picked up influences from jazz, blues and The opening track was a less lucky choice, because of the somewhat unpleasant imagery, but "Leave With A Smile" makes that up to us immediately. "The Black Widow" (the single) sounds like it comes straight from a bar in New Orleans, same goes for "Lay Me Low". Prize for the prettiest melody is handed to "Restless Mind".
The lyrics vary quite a bit in quality, I hear some Dutch expressions literally translated, but on the other hand: I also hear some really brilliant finds, for instance lines in "Compass & Chart", "Rain Falls Down" and especially "Modern Life Drag"! These fifteen tracks form together a wonderful varied mix, like the music we hear in New Orleans indeed...
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, Dutch original of this review previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands.