Artists You Should Know: Jem Bluestein

October 9, 2009 

If you follow folk music in Fresno, then the Bluestein name needs no introduction.

The Bluesteins are Fresno's first family of folk. Patriarch Gene Bluestein was a folk musician and professor who had his children playing music from a young age. Many years later, they're still at it.

Case in point: Jem Bluestein -- 51 and third of the four Bluestein kids -- has just released a new CD and is leaving next week for a two-month European tour. He'll perform 43 shows in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg.

We talked to Bluestein about his CD and his tour:

So this new CD of yours was a long time in the making. Tell us about its creation.

I've recorded many albums during my long musical lifetime. I never did one of my very own -- always before it was with other family members or bands. So I collected stuff I liked most from the previous decades, added a few new tunes and what I have is a somewhat up-to-date retrospective.

With a title like "Soul of a Man," it sounds like the CD is pretty personal. True?

Yes, sort of personal in that it's a lot of what I like most. But the title comes from a Bessie Jones number I sing with my siblings (recorded live in concert) with myself on slide guitar. There is a lot of soul in the songs and tunes, though. They are mostly pretty old-timey in origin and some pretty traditionally treated, with others arranged/played with full out-electric band, everything pretty funky and nothing like slick commercial pop music, really.

For anybody who has followed your previous work, how does "Soul of a Man" compare?

Some familiar sounds, but pretty much everyone will hear some stuff never heard before. Lots of full vocal arrangements with family members, some energetic Cajun and zydeco dance tunes, Appalachian songs and a few things that defy description and must be heard to believe.

Where can people pick up the CD?

The CD will be available any day now for sale at Whole Foods Market in Fig Garden Village. My friends at WFM have cut me a nice deal, and most of the cash goes to your local neighborhood folk musician. The actual debut will be at the Intermountain Nursery (just past Prather on Highway 168, right at the Auberry turnoff) this Sunday, Oct. 11, at noon, where my band Lonesome Jem and the Lunatics will be performing for your dancing pleasure. It's a beautiful place and a great fall fair and community gathering.

Is there a place on your upcoming tour you're particularly looking forward to playing?

Haven't gotten that far yet. I'm a little anticipation-impaired sometimes. It has to do with always having too much on the old plate. Gotta get the firewood in and the new roof on right away before leaving. I guess I'll glance at the itinerary on the flight over.

Anything planned for when you get back? Local shows?

Yes, we'll need to jump on marketing the new CD upon return. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Lonesome Jem in early 2010.

Know a local musician more people should be familiar with? Send details to mosegueda@fresnobee.com.

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