Stone Cold Ohio

Little Axe, 2006

Little Axes's fifth album is 'Stone Cold Ohio' - 15 tracks of future blues - dubbed-out, dark, and smokey. It includes covers of songs by Skip James, Allen Toussaint, and Mos Def man Will Calhoun. '...Ohio' traces a line from African chants, Afro-American field songs, blues, gospel, soul, funk and dub, and takes it on into the 21st Century.

'Stone Cold Ohio' references Skip's home state. "Back to my roots. A reality check," he says. Skip was born in Dayton, Ohio, one of the great funk breeding grounds - Wilson Pickett , the Ohio Players, The Falcons etc. There he learned blues guitar from his father, and by the age of 10 was already playing jazz professionally. By 12, his focus had shifted to doo-wop, and he also played in a gospel quartet. The name Little Axe is both a tribute to the Bob Marley/Wailers' song "Small Axe" and also to Wilbur "Little Ax" Broadnax of the Spirit of Memphis gospel quartet. Gospel plays a big part on '...Ohio', and Skip sums the album up as "Blues and spirituality".

'Stone Cold Ohio' features Skip's ex-Sugarhill Gang and Tackhead colleagues Doug Wimbish and Keith LeBlanc, and a cast of characters like upcoming reggae star Ghetto Priest.

Little Axe continue to play live - last time they did Robert Plant, a big fan, got up on stage and sang with them.

These are the 21st-century blues.

Reviews

  • Wonderful Hybrid Coated in the decidedly dub-by feel that immediately marks this as an Adrian Sherwood production, Stone Cold Ohio is situated in profoundly swampy territory (is Ohio swampy?) between country blues, gospel and something else. Rockin’ Shoes is both my favourite track and wholly typical of what Little Axe is all about. It lopes along, with a call and response between Skip and his choir that’s suggestive of both a Sunday sermon and a chain gang. Meanwhile, an eerily familiar organ line plays under the vocals, threatening at any moment to break out into Superstition. The whole thing is wrapped up in Sherwood’s characteristically reverb rich On-U sound. Only one thing nags Moby credits Little Axe as an influence on his massively successful 1999 CD Play, and the debt is HUGE. As a listener coming to Little Axe post-Play, I really wish I could wind back the clock and hear this wonderful hybrid fresh, untainted by the sonic legacy of Moby’s multitudinous TV licensing deals Penguin Eggs
  • Dub and Blues Mixing up the elements of work song blues with gospel and dub, it's a less contrived version of events than was popularised by Moby, resulting in a more sincere production. DJ Mag (UK)
  • Spacey, spiritual stuff With every album - this is their fifth, and best yet - the band go deeper into the mythology and riffology of Southern blues culture, which they harness to modern sampling techniques with an increasingly sure touch. Ancient work songs and field recordings are married to exquisite, minor-key chord changes and fantastically deep, dark, dub grooves to produce a spine-tingling, otherwordly mosaic. Highlights include the howling harmonica reveille on 'Same People', the wry, spoken-word narrative of 'Jive Talk' and the gorgeous, drifting gospel chant of 'Rockin Shoes'. Spacey, spiritual stuff. The Word (UK)
  • Soulful soundsmiths, from Sugar Hill to On-U, and still exploring The Little Axe guys - singer-guitarist Skip McDonald, bassist Doug Wimbish amd drummer Keith Leblanc - bestride hip hop generations. And Oceans. In New jersey they played with the Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash (on The Message). Later they came to England and became integral to Adrian Sherwood's On-U venture (Tackhead, African Head Charge and so on). But Little Axe is team player McDonald's personal outlet. Their fifth release is a big-canvas album, built for A-Z listening, no skips. It's lyrics draw together strands of black history - slavery, Christianity, hard labour, civil rights - through to the current "demon days". Meanwhile, the beats and moods, echoes and distortions of perfect-fit sounds summon up swampy old blues cottonfield and chain-gang ghosts amid elaborate modern-times electronic ambiences. Mojo (UK)
  • Stunning Rarely do the blues sound so "blue" as they do in the hands of Skip McDonald.... As Little Axe, he's made a gripping testament to modern troubled times. Taking blues as his core sound, he weaves in gospel, dub and funk, fiendishly extracting raw emotion out of every note. Stone Cold Ohio is a beautifully constructed work that draws on the age-old American tunes and themes. At times, it reaches further back to African tunes and themes. At others, it simply exudes contemporary cool. We know he's well versed in rap, but here Skip delves deep into the universal music motherlode to stunning effect. The Sun (UK)
  • Glorious Skip McDonald's time-traveling career has gone from cooking up the original rap revolution at Sugarhill to dubbed-up 21st century Delta blues. The fifth album from his Little Axe incarnation is an affirmation of his mission to make ancient visions thrive in a modern setting. There's euphoric gospel (Rockin' Shoes), whipcrack soul (Victims) and deep blues (Trouble In Mind), all relayed through Skip's inimitable voice and guitar. The glorious sound of history collapsing into itself. The Mirror (UK)
  • That Gritty 21st Century Spaced Out Blues Combo Guitarist Skip McDonald comes with another installment from that gritty 21st century spaced out blues combo Little Axe. If you're feelin' the Alabama 3's intro to the Sopranos you'll immediately warm to the sound of Little Axe, but the likeness stops there 'cause Skip's agenda is deep. This is a man who along with drummer Keith Leblanc was pivotal in creating the sound of the legendary Sugarhill Gang. However it was an alliance with On U Sounds dub-master, Adrian Sherwood, that shaped the sounds on Little Axe's seminal 'The Wolf That House Built'. Four albums on 'Stone Cold Ohio' continues to pull from the air the spirit of those old field recordings and deliver music that connects, that you can touch. They kick of with a tune that references the creepy Dick Cheney and a nation marching off to war to the flag of the US dollar while the next cut, the hilarious 'Jive Talk' takes us back to the sharecroppin' South. With Little Axe you're always at the crossroads and as Bob Marley said, "You are the big tree. We are the small axe coming to chop you down..." Straight No Chaser (UK)
  • Audacious nu-blues from former Sugarhill Gang man Is the blues today a grave-robbing heritage industry or a still-vital form capable of innovation? Thankfully, in the hands of Skip McDonald's Little Axe, it is the latter. 'Stone Cold Ohio' joins up the dots linking African hollers, gospel and Delta blues eeriness to hip hop, funk and techno. So while you can place Blind Willie Johnson's "If I Had My Way" alongside Toussaint's "On Your Way Down" and Mos Def collaborator Will Calhoun's "She" and genuinely wonder which came first. On-U Sound's Adrian Sherwood mixes it all into a simmering gumbo of hypnotic beats, wailing voices and shivering guitars seasoned with dub-laden apocalyptic menace. Uncut (UK)
  • Hip Hop Spirituals? Little Axe is Skip McDonald’s latest venture (with colleagues Doug Wimbish and Keith leBlanc, as usual lurking in the back still after all these years)... These guys, never scared of experimenting, have treaded a long tortuous creative road that’s always seen them move forward... Of course on paper, this new project doesn’t fail to echo Moby’s similar recycling of blues acappelas into modern day songs, but McDonald’s experience stretches further and the results are heavier, perfectly in tune with the feel of the vocals (‘hip-hop spirituals’?). Update (UK)