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Fat Possum

Twenty-three-year-old white bluesman Entrance faces a daunting challenge: His debut, Wandering Stranger, must be good enough not only to make us forget all about BB King and those beer commercials, but also to prevent winces at its author’s youth, race, and (sorry) T. Rex–redux hairstyle. Against the odds, the Baltimore singer-songwriter born Guy Blakeslee pulls it off: His innate instrumental ability and freakish Syd Barrett/Marc Bolan moan (it isn’t just the hair) light up rethinkings of “Train Is Leaving” and “Honey in the Rock.” He handles the formidable “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” with authority, slathering his plaintive wail on a song mastered by Woody Guthrie and Mississippi John Hurt as he matches them chord for heartbreaking chord. And on the epic “Darling,” Entrance mixes traditional blues verses with more up-to-date verbiage of his own. His “How I wish I was in Baltimore, darling/Where everyone is angry and poor” resonates hauntingly, assisted by an achy guitar refrain. It’s much to Entrance’s credit that even listeners familiar with the blues canon won’t always be able to tell which lyrics are his and which are his masters’—he makes new music that builds on old music in a living, breathing way. This ability does have a flip side, of course: Entrance’s originals are his least compelling work. “Please Be Careful in New Orleans,” a spooky graveyard lullaby in the spirit of Cab Calloway’s “St. James Infirmary Blues,” lacks the power on record that it had in a dirgy, delay-heavy performance at the Black Cat last month. The sonically similar “Lonesome Road,” bolstered by Paz Lenchantin’s eerie fiddling, would have come off better at something under 12 minutes. And “Happy Trails to You,” Wandering Stranger’s unfortunate closer, is a bit of loopy, instrumental guitar skree that shouldn’t have made it through the final edit. Didn’t the Velvet Underground, Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth, or somebody already do this so we don’t have to hear it ever again? Still, you’ve got to give Entrance credit. Every snarky record critic in the world is likely to put his two cents in on the ethnomusicological context of the guy’s music before even mentioning his name. But he does his thing well and, more important, he does it without apology.—Justin Moyer