Buddy Guy – Rhythm and Blues – Silvertone [Distr. by Sony Music] 8883-71759-2, (2 CDs) CD 1: 40:51, CD 2: 39:41 [7/29/13] ****:
(Buddy Guy – guitar, vocals; Tom Hambridge – drums, producer, backing vocals (CD 1, track 6), elephant bells (CD 1, track 9), harmonica (CD 2, track 6); Reese Wynans – Hammond B-3 organ, Wurlitzer (CD 1, track 3); Michael Rhodes – bass; David Grissom – guitar (CD 1, tracks 1-3, 5, 8, 11; CD 2, tracks 1-4, 6-7, 9); the Muscle Shoals Horns: Charles Rose (trombone, horn arrangements), Steve Herman (trumpet), Jim Horn (baritone saxophone), Harvey Thompson (tenor saxophone) (CD 1, tracks 1, 5, 8; CD 2, track 6); Wendy Moten – backing vocals (CD 1, tracks 2, 10); Regina, Freda and Ann McCrary – backing vocals (CD 1, track 3; CD 2, track 1); Chris Carmichael – strings, string arrangement (CD 1, track 3); Kid Rock – vocals (CD 1, track 4); Tommy McDonald – bass (CD 1, tracks 4, 6-10; CD 2, tracks 4-5, 8-10); Kevin McKendree – Hammond B-3 organ (CD 1, tracks 4, 9-10), Wurlitzer (CD 1, tracks 6, 9), piano (CD 1, track 7; CD 2, tracks 5, 8, 10); Jessica Wagner-Cowan, Herschel Boone and Shannon Curfman – backing vocals (CD 1, track 4); Keith Urban – vocals, guitar (CD 1, track 6); Jim Hoke – horns (CD 1, track 7); Beth Hart – vocals (CD 1, track 8); Steven Tyler – vocals (CD 2, track 3); Joe Perry, Brad Whitford – guitar (CD 2, track 3); Rob McNeeley – slide guitar (CD 2, track 5); Gary Clark, Jr. – vocals, guitar (CD 2, track 8))
At this point in his long career as a bluesman, guitarist Buddy Guy apparently can do no harm to his legend as one of the greatest blues slingers ever. His fiery leads and passionate vocals remain untethered, a force of nature. And as he gets nearer to 80 years old, a time when most people are retired, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. In the last decade, Buddy Guy’s albums have had a loose conceptual edge (2001’s Sweet Tea basked in early, raw Delta blues; 2003’s Blues Singer was awash in Southern acoustic blues; and 2010’s Living Proof was touted as aural autobiography). Buddy Guy’s latest, the double-disc Rhythm and Blues, follows a parallel path: this time around, Guy delves into Southern soul and hard-charging, Chicago-styled electric blues. Ostensibly, the first disc is the soul side, while the second disc is the blues side, but there is a sinuous connection between the two genres, and some soul drifts into the blues, and lots of blues swathes the soul material.
Luckily, no matter which section of the musical fence Guy sits on, the music is terrific. Over the course of not quite 80 minutes, Guy flaunts his vaunted guitar skills, which is the reason most fans will appreciate this release. But there are undeniably interesting moments beyond Guy’s riffs, licks and powerful six-string chords. Similar to some former records, Guy includes some well-known guests. Most of Aerosmith collaborates with Guy on one track; the Muscle Shoals Horns support Guy on four cuts; the hybridized country-rap-rocker Kid Rock and country-pop star Keith Urban drop in (on separate songs); young blues-rocker Shannon Curfman (once an up-and-coming female artist) bolsters as a backing vocalist; and Texas guitarist Gary Clark Jr. joins the party as well. Despite the visitors, though, this is Buddy Guy’s record, from start to finish.
Guy doesn’t stray far from what he has established. Part of that is no doubt due to producer, songwriter and drummer Tom Hambridge (he’s a co-writer on almost every number), who helmed Guy’s two previous outings, Living Proof and 2008’s Skin Deep. Hambridge gives Guy plenty of room to display his gnarly, audacious sonic blasts, via several specialty guitars (outlined in the accompanying booklet) and Hambridge helps keep the arrangements ticking along and moving. As a lyricist, though, he’s a bit too pat and sometimes veers toward cliché, which is more noticeable on the second, blues-drenched CD.
Guy opens both discs with some Chicago adoration, which provides continuity. “Best in Town” summarizes Guy’s early days scuffling for money in gritty Chi-Town clubs, with soulful assistance from Hammond B-3 keyboardist Reese Wynans (a Guy regular who has also worked with John Hiatt, Joe Ely and was in Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Double Trouble) and the Muscle Shoals horn section. The homage “Meet Me in Chicago,” (which commences CD 2) also features Wynans. While the sentiments about the Windy City are earnest, and Guy’s guitar shreds from initial bar to last, the narrative hews too closely to a formulaic blues format. The soul numbers on the first disc which sound best are ones which have a bold bonhomie. Guy has a measured but potent approach on the astutely grooving “I Go by Feel,” where his lanky Fender Stratocaster flows like golden molasses, with a subtle string section slipping in and out of the background. Guy and Keith Urban also maintain a moderate mood on slow soul-burner, “One Day Away,” which bites deep and has some surprisingly good harmony singing (Guy’s vocal style isn’t typically noted for such harmony). The energy level picks up on a fast-paced version of “Messin’ with the Kid,” the Junior Wells blues standard also covered by B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Rory Gallagher. Kid Rock and Guy trade verses, and thankfully keep the cut short and to the point. The optimal duet, though, is the rocky-relationship dialogue, “What You Gonna Do about Me,” with Los Angeles-based roots rocker Beth Hart. Guy’s guitar is nicely accentuated by the Muscle Shoals horns, while the stay-or-go story resonates with truth.
Another link, which correlates both CDs, is songs about being with the wrong woman. CD 1 has “The Devil’s Daughter” (the punchline has do with the mother-in-law), while CD 2 has the cheating-girlfriend tale, “Evil Twin,” the aforementioned alliance with members of hard rock group Aerosmith: Steven Tyler swaps vocals with Guy, but the highlight is hearing Guy exchange searing guitar lines with Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. Most of the other material on the blues side has blazing guitar runs, but regrettably the tunes function as straightforward guitar showcases, rather than as testaments to the blues as an evolving musical art form. One exception is when Guy teams up with Gary Clark, Jr. on the romping “Blues Don’t Care,” which fluently mines blues-rock territory and is a perfectly carved crossover winner waiting for discovery. The most overtly soulful track is the final one, Mel London’s “Poison Ivy,” (not to be confused with the Leiber/Stoller single of the same name), an R&B hit for Willie Mabon in 1954. It would have fit better on the soul side, but in typical Guy fashion, it concludes the blues side and brings the whole project to a satisfying completion.
CD 1: Best in Town; Justifyin’; I Go By Feel; Messin’ with the Kid; What’s Up with that Woman; One Day Away; Well I Done Got Over It; What You Gonna Do about Me; The Devil’s Daughter; Whiskey Ghost; Rhythm Inner Groove
CD 2: Meet Me in Chicago; Too Damn Bad; Evil Twin; I Could Die Happy; Never Gonna Change; All that Makes Me Happy is the Blues; My Mama Loved Me; Blues Don’t Care; I Came Up Hard; Poison Ivy