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Buddy Guy - Best in town
on 29 July 2013
The roll call of great Chicago bluesmen is not so much a list as an endless tapestry of artists whose influence dominates every aspect of modern music not least in terms of the rock genre. Just think of the names Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rodgers, Junior Wells, Howlin Wolf and a host of others and their impact is immeasurable. We are however blessed that arguably one of the greatest proponents of the genre and (with due respect to B B King) its most influential ever guitarist remains in our midst firing on gas and playing like a demon. Buddy Guy has been rightly called the bridge between blues and rock "n' roll and at the age of 77 still welds a polka dot guitar with such gusto that he makes Eddie Van Halen sound dull. This new double album "Rhythm and blues" is split into two sides with the first slighter funkier than the second but frankly the differences are minimal. The album is also laden with a heavy guest list not least Kid Rock, Keith Urban, Beth Hart, most of Aerosmith and the new blues sensation Gary Clark Jr. In fairness it is admirable that artists pay homage to such a great performer, although ever since Carlos Santana employed the guest open door policy on "Supernatural" it has perhaps become a formula that is a tad overworked? As a result the this album is very polished and subject to a big production but in execution some of the raucous charm to be found on his live performances are absent (this reviewer was lucky enough to head down the great man's Legends blues club in the South Loop Chicago before Christmas). That said this is an exceptionally solid Buddy Guy album and when firing on all cylinders he is untouchable. Seek out the brilliant "I could die happy" and its mix of acoustic and electric guitars positively fizzles with raw energy. Of all the collaborations on the album it is the funky horn driven "What you gonna do about me" with Beth Hart's almost Joplin like vocals to to the fore which works brilliantly and has a level of raunch that it almost obscene. Opener "Best in town" sees Guy's playing and singing as good as ever and the showy guitar licks are there in plentiful supply. It is noticeable when when Guy strips it all back he is often at his most effective. The haunting "Whisky Ghost" oozes with menacing atmospherics and is scintillating stuff. The slow pace of "All that makes me happy is the blues" is punctuated by solos so hot that Guy must have played this with asbestos gloves. It is a heart warming tribute to his great friend B B King and should be downloaded post haste. Equally "My mama loved me" is pure deep Chicago and again the guitar playing is stunning.
With 21 tracks spread over 80 minutes there are weaker moments and they are largely confined to the guest material. The version of Junior Wells "Messin with the Kid" suffers from the very strained vocals of Keith Rock who is no blues natural and perhaps the "welcome mat" should have been left inside the door. In any case Rory Gallagher's version remains unbeatable. Similarly the duet with Gary Clark Jr "Blues don't care" is standard blues template and in the singing stakes it is noteworthy that the 77 year old literally wipes the floor with the newcomer who seems so in awe of the great man it has affected his pitch. The Toxic Twins Joe Perry and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith at least sound like they are enjoying themselves on the slow blues of "Evil Town" and while you expect Tyler to break into "Dude looks like a lady" at any point they pull it off with sheer joie de vivre. Nevertheless it is on songs like the glorious "I came up hard" that we find an unencumbered Buddy Guy at his best. It has all that showy flash and bluster at his disposal and you are reminded of the comment of the later great Stevie Ray Vaughan on his playing when he once declared that" Buddy Guy plays from a place that I've never heard anyone play.". Check it out. The jumping blues of his cover of Willie Mabon's 1954 Chicago hit "Poison Ivy" sweeps you up in its enthusiasm and demands that club again on the Southside packed to its sweaty rafters and smelling of Southern fried food.
"Rhythm and Blues" has the odd weakness but thats because it is about the generosity of this great guitarist and his desire to play with musical all comers. Having recently reviewed the curates egg that is Gary Clark's "Blak and Blu" any blues connoisseur would be well advised to start at the source of the mighty blues river with this album and only then move onto one of its tributaries