Midge Marsden: The Midge Marsden Collection (SDL)

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Growing Out of the Blues
Midge Marsden: The Midge Marsden Collection (SDL)

It's all too easy to misrepresent Midge Marsden, one of the long distance runners in New Zealand music.

It's a quick and easy description to call him a “bluesman” or a “blues musician”.

But as he would be equally quick – if incredibly frustrated – to respond, in his long career (and this double CD reflects on 50 years) he never actually recorded a straight-up blues album.

Yes, blues was often in there . . . but when this collection starts way way back with the Breakaways in the late Sixties it was a garage-band rock'n'roll take on Baby Please Don't Go which they picked up from Belfast's Them (fronted by Van Morrison).

Midge Marsden OBE has played straight-up countrified rock'n'roll (with the Country Flyers), recorded with jazz trombonist/big ban band leader Rodger Fox, delivered thrilling hard edged Texas blues with his friend Stevie Ray Vaughan (how many New Zealand musicians could claim a friendship with a player of that stature), could turn down the mood for his excellent retrospective acoustic album Travel'n Time in 2007, reach into a deep well of soul music for his wonderful (and much overlooked) album Back to the Well in 2014 . . .

So yes. Midge Marsden did sometimes play the blues (better than most in this country, he just somehow had a heart and soul for it) but don't call him a “blues musician” because he was always so much more.

Yet so much exactly that when he wanted to be.

This thoroughly enjoyable 28 song collection spans those many decades of Marsden's long life in front of microphones and comes with a roll-call of important, if sometime overlooked, local musicians, producers, fellow travellers and friends: Neil Hannan, Beaver, Jan Preston, Phil Manning, Dave Hurley, Mike Farrell, Liam Ryan, Bill Lake, Ken Pearson who went too soon, Brian Smith . . . and so many more.

And that's just the first disc.

Disc two has Hammond Gamble, Steve Garden, Taisha, Darren Watson . . .

So it goes: Marsden's emotional and musical reach – as well as his immense personal charm and self-effacing good humour – allowed him to invite in the best.

And who could refuse?

Marsden's Burning Rain album of '90 and Travellin' On of three years later are important and enjoyable cornerstone albums in Kiwi music, and Back to the Well should be in any sensible collection.

But if you can't find them then The Midge Marsden Collection is an excellent overview/starting point into a musician who has always been so much more than the “bluesman” shorthand.

It includes his enthusiastic folk-blues version of Mystery Train with Bullfrog Rata and the never-before collated and iconic late Eighties ad for Europa petrol Travellin' On with a supergroup of Stevie Ray, onetime Underdog Murray Grindlay, Mike Farrell, bassist Billy Karaitiana and drummer Peter Warren (of DD Smash) and the late Murray McNabb.

And he could do Texas Swing: Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarettes released here for the first time.

Yes, the second disc does default to "the blues" (different kinds, of course) but it would be heart without a soul which didn't hear I'll Drown in my Own Tears and not be moved.

And it goes out with a song by the great Bill Lake: Growing Out of the Blues . . . 

This long overdue collection comes with brief but interesting comments about each track by Marsden and, without forcing the issue, it reminds you of one simple fact: They don't make musicians in a machine pumping out templates.

Midge Marsden is one of a kind.

Here's ample evidence.

Midge Marsden was here interviewed at Elsewhere in 2014 on the occasion of his Back to the Well album.

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