Shelton Powe’s “Same Train” revisits the Piedmont of his childhood

“It is good old country blues at its best today. This is music performed in living rooms, for families, on front porches, in small churches with a small congregation.”

Piedmont blues guitarist Shelton Powe’s new album Same Train showcases both the remarkable musical versatility and profound emotional range of its namesake, moving effortlessly from mournful laments to righteous exaltations and back again over the course of 14 spare and mesmerizing tracks.

“It is good old country blues at its best today,” says Music Maker co-founder and Executive Director Tim Duffy. “This is music performed in living rooms, for families, on front porches, in small churches with a small congregation. This is an intimate album.”

Even the instruments heard on the album are deeply personal; the guitar Powe plays is a one-of-a-kind piece handmade by artist and luthier Freeman Vines. Sam Duffy accompanies on mandolin, and Johnny Ray, KeAmber, and Anthony Daniels sing along on the gospel tracks.

Born in Charlotte in 1957, Powe grew up surrounded by gifted instrumentalists, singers, and dancers, but it wasn’t until after the deaths of his mother and father in the late 1980s that he began truly connecting with the rhythms and melodies he’d been raised around. Picking up the guitar as a tribute to his deceased mother, Shelton set out to learn old-time blues and gospel the way he remembered it, revisiting the church pews, back roads, and front porches of his childhood through song.

“Jesus on the Mainline” especially highlights the talented gospel singers backing Powe on this album. The powerfully sung “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” channels the passion of the church congregation asking for mercy during prayer. “Walk in the Park” shows off the sweet twang of the mandolin and gives the feeling of an afternoon spent outside, on the porch or in the woods.

Since Powe first connected with Music Maker in 1997, he’s recorded his own album, Carolina Blues and Gospel, and played alongside numerous Music Maker artists, including Eddie Tigner, Mudcat, Cora Mae Bryant, Frank Edwards, Cootie Stark and Neal Pattman. More than a musical fancy, the Carolina blues is a piece of Powe, and listening to him play instantly transports listeners back to the wellspring of the traditions he carries on today.