Bobby Murray • I’m Sticking With You

Murray

Bobby Murray

I’m Sticking With You

http://www.reverbnation.com/bobbymurray

 

Consider his association with such legends as Johnnie Taylor, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Otis Rush, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy McCracklin, and Albert King; the three Grammy Awards on his shelf; and his lengthy solo career: Bobby Murray rates among the most accomplished sidemen and bandleaders in the blues. Although he is often thought of as a West Coast musician, having come up in a band alongside Robert Cray, and having enjoyed 22 years working for Etta James, after 18 years Bobby Murray is surely a Detroiter. He holds the Detroit Blues Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2011), and his fourth album as a leader features some of the Motor City’s top talent on a world-class contemporary soul blues recording.

The guitarist’s core band on the recently released I’m Sticking With You included Dave Uricek (bass), Mark Thibodeau (organ), and Renell Gonsalves (drums), with occasional guitar from recording and mixing engineer/co-producer Brian “Roscoe” White. The set list, made up entirely of Murray’s original compositions and co-writes, encompasses slinky minor key grooves in the Robert Cray mold, gospel-drenched ballads, fresh-sounding shuffles, slow blues, and inventive soul blues and funk. Murray’s unique guitar work, which blends a lowdown approach with fluid, modern lines, is at the forefront, along with the contributions of several exceptional singers who assist Thibodeau, Uricek, and Murray with vocals.

Sticking opens with “Finders Keepers,” a chugging soul-blues number from Murray’s days with Frankie Lee. Here its drive is so relentless the take could easily slide into one of Otis Clay’s live albums. Organ and guitar solos are pithy and memorable; “Red” Redding gives a smoky, restrained, yet charged vocal performance. Singer Paul Randolph is superb on the title track, a staccato dance groove with funky accents and lovely backing vocals. Murray plays jagged, tangled solos in a modern, distorted tone. On “Ooowee,” strictly a down home, Jimmy Reed-inflected shuffle, his lead work alternates lazy “traditional” blues lines and chording with burbling, rapid-fire picking, always wedded firmly to the beat.

On “Comin’ Atcha,” White and Murray spar with solos reminiscent of Robben Ford’s style, but exciting. Laying down the minor key groove on this song only is a rhythm section of Ron Pangborn (drums) and Nolan Mendenhall (bass). Thibodeau’s piano opens “Rock My Soul” with a Ray Charles quotation, leading into a deeply soulful, gospel number with a testifying vocal by Barbara Payton, a memorable, two-chord figure, chiming rhythm guitars, and crisp lead guitar with Murray sounding much like Cray. (I’m sure he tires of reading that, but on this cut it is true.) Tom Hogarth sings “Shake It Baby, Shake It,” a light, upbeat, funky tune remotely like “Groove Me,” with soul-stew double-stops and hard-driving interludes.

Redding is back at the microphone on “Baby Needs Some Lovin’ Too,” which could almost be a forgotten classic from the heyday of Chicago soul save for a middle section that bedims the song’s sunny mood (wonderful writing here), and on the slow blues “Bad Case Of The Blues,” a showcase for Murray’s tough, tasteful guitar. “Baby, What Took Your Love Away” is another crisp, mid-tempo, minor key song with dramatic movement. Murray slathers “Movin’ On Down The Line,” a swaggering blues-with-a-touch-of soul, with greasy guitar. The program comes to a close with the churning, dark funk “Building Of Love.” Take a killer bass line, add wah and/or Leslie effects on the guitar, a few catchy and complex changes, and you have a solid slab of classic Detroit soul, updated for our times.

“A modern take on classic styles” aptly describes I’m Sticking With You. Bobby Murray and company have delivered a disc that sounds fresh yet has the ring of familiarity. Its 11 tracks are well-written, expertly sung and played blues, soul, and funk, every one a winner.

TOM HYSLOP

I received this CD courtesy of the Detroit Blues Society (detroitbluessociety.org/), in whose Blues Notes newsletter of August 2014 this review originally appeared.

 

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Guy King: Solo and Organ Trio Recordings

By Myself I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

GUY KING

By Myself

I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is

IBF Records, 2012

guyking.net

Guy King established his credentials in the six years he spent as bandleader for Chicago legend Willie Kent, during which his tough but nuanced lead guitar playing was a major part of The Gents’ hard-edged blues sound. Following Kent’s death in 2006, King embarked upon a solo career. His debut album Livin’ It, on which a new, tightly arranged style, inflected with smooth, jazz-shaded R&B, began to emerge, was nominated for a Blues Music Award; and the guitarist, a native of Israel, seemed to be everywhere at once, appearing nationally and internationally with his blues band, playing solo shows, and fronting an organ trio around Chicago. Then he seemingly fell off the map. As it turns out, King has been spending most of his time abroad, mainly performing in Israel and Brazil. Given that he is preparing to return to the United States for a series of dates scheduled around the 2014 Chicago Blues Festival, now seems a good time to take stock of the two excellent albums King quietly released at the end of summer 2012.

Willie Kent’s gritty electric blues were one thing; the uptown Livin’ It was quite another. What King does on By Myself is completely unexpected. Powerful interpretations of songs by pre-war blues icon Robert Johnson make up nearly half of the 15-song set. King shows a surprising affinity for the form, with a mastery of Johnson’s technique and chords, a snappy, percussive attack that brings a full and expressive sound to the solo guitar, and vocals that shift from full to falsetto, always sounding natural and often impassioned, as when his voice breaks in “Hellhound On My Trail,” where King evokes hopeless resignation in the face of haunting mystery. At the other end of the emotional register is the relatively plainspoken “Steady Rollin’ Man,” also among the strongest performances here. King’s singing takes on a notable resonance and vibrato, appropriately enough, on “Can’t Be Satisfied,” one of two Muddy Waters numbers, and thumps fleet runs on the bass strings of his guitar behind Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Katie Mae,” which closes this portion of the program.

Don’t despair if Mississippi and Texas blues are not your thing. Five songs at the end of the CD come from an entirely different direction. Still solo, still built on King’s acoustic guitar and evocative singing, they touch on more contemporary and more cosmopolitan musical styles. “I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is” is a swinging, soulful, upbeat number with a jazzy flair. Next King reprises the sophisticated ballad “Alone In The City,” from Livin’ It. Stripped of its electric instruments and horns, it sounds more like Percy Mayfield or even Charles Brown at his gloomiest–with Ray Charles somewhere at the root of both versions. King overdubs subtle percussion on the last few songs, all in the bossa nova style, beginning with his reading of the jazz standard “Nature Boy,” continuing through his lively cover of Joao Gilberto’s “Acapulco,” and ending with a smoky “Besame Mucho.” This is music for lovers, indeed.

Recorded with Mike Schlick (drums) and Ben Paterson (organ), the two-CD set I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is offers a cool cruise through jazz and standards, blues and ballads, soul and R&B, and pop. The program begins with a band version of the title track before moving to Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite.” King then shifts from bop to the birth of soul, with an emotional “Drown In My Own Tears.” Next up is a light “Sweet Lorraine,” a rousing “Mojo,” then back to jazz with Stanley Turrentine’s bluesy “Sugar,” and on to Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love” and a “Going To Chicago” much toned down from any of the often-heard Joe Williams versions. King’s interest in Brazil comes out in Jobim’s uptempo “Agua De Beber.” Bobby Hebb’s pop smash “Sunny” yields to another Ray Charles ballad before King delivers a wondrous “Tear It Down,” capturing not only Wes Montgomery’s signature octaves but his excitement and effortless swing. Paterson is on fire here, too, and Schlick ably covers the drum breaks.

The second disc unfolds along the same lines, covering standards romantic (“You’ve Changed,” “Moonlight In Vermont”) and frivolous (“The Frim Fram Sauce”); jazz (“Green Dolphin Street” and workouts on McGriff’s “Vicky” and Burrell’s “Kenny’s Sound”); lush ballads from Billie Holiday (“God Bless The Child”) and Stevie Wonder (“Lately”); the breezy Brazilian “Brigas Nunca Mais”; blues (a pitiful “All Over Again,” from B.B. King’s catalog) and R&B (from Ray Charles once more, in a splendid “Roll With My Baby”). As is often the case with organ trios, some of the best material comes from unlikely places. King nods to the soul jazz tradition with sweet pop and elegant soul selections (“Isn’t She Lovely” and “Me And Mrs. Jones”), and surprises with the country weeper “Crying Time,” perhaps learned from Buck Owens, or remembered from bluesman Phillip Walker’s Playboy Records LP. In either case, it is devastating. Overall, the division between instrumentals and vocal numbers is about even, the latter showing King’s pleasant, expressive range, and on virtually every track, King and Paterson trade solos that, even when speaking the language of jazz, retain bluesy phrasing and tonalities. The group has a real feeling for the entire range of styles on What It Is, an absolutely lovely album on many levels.

King’s achievement is all the more impressive when one considers that both albums were recorded virtually off-the-cuff. Inspired after an evening’s gig, King cut the solo album in a single session, using an acoustic guitar belonging to the studio. In much the same way, the 30 songs on the organ trio record were laid down, in much less than 24 hours, during the course of an all-nighter, with a brief follow-up later in the afternoon. One might reasonably wonder if there is anything he can’t do, and where he will take us next. King has in fact been writing and recording new material, with an ear sensibly tilted toward producing great music, without much concern for genre restrictions. The touchstone artists whose work inspired the two works considered here–Muddy Waters, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stevie Wonder, Nat “King” Cole, and Ray Charles in particular–seem likely to play a continuing role in King’s musical development. That is an evolution I don’t want to miss. In taking the varied music he loves and recasting it in new combinations, Guy King is going about his art the right way. Musicians with genuinely big ears are rare, and talent like King’s is rarer still.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought these CDs from the artist’s Web site.