Billy Pierce – Shapes of Soul
11 songs – 52 minutes
Billy Pierce’s website does not tell the reader a vast amount about him other than that he’s a Wilmington, Delaware, blues slide guitarist. That may be true, but it hardly provides the full story. He is also a talented songwriter and his new album, Shapes of Soul, features 11 blues-rock tracks reeking with the pungent sounds of New Orleans and has a guest list that reads like a roster of modern day super-sidemen and women.
With a magical backing band of Charlie Wooton on bass, Doug Belote on drums and Keiko Komaki on piano and keys, the music on Shapes of Soul was always going to be immersed in the bewitching rhythms and grooves of Louisiana. When you add the assorted talents of Michael Doucet’s fiddle, Jason Ricci’s harmonica, Cindy Cashdollar’s lap steel, Mike Zito’s guitar, Jeff T Watkins’ saxophone and the Bonerama Trombones, you know there are going to be some irresistible rhythms laid down. The rock’n’roll of “Red Dog Saloon” is fine case in point, where Doucet’s fiddle adds an especially glorious layer of stardust.
Opening with the funky “Paycheck To Paycheck”, the Bonerama Trombones (Mark Mullins, Greg Hicks and Craig Klein) add some serious punch to proceedings. The Sonny Landreth-esque key-hopping “Acadiana” also benefits from Douchet’s spot-on playing.
There is something of a 1970s feel to the album at times, from Wooton’s full yet warm production (with Komaki’s keys high in the mix) to the way certain songs permit the musicians to stretch out as if at a live jam, for example at the end of “Tears Of Joy” or on “Katrina”.
Pierce is a fine electric slide guitar player, picking particularly melodic lines on the instrumental title track (with a lovely descending piano figure from Komaki) and on the minor key “Delta Queen” (perhaps inspired by the presence on the track of Cindy Cashdollar) and he also wrote eight of the 11 tracks on the album. He is a generous bandleader, affording ample solos to the other musicians throughout – although there is plenty of joy to be found purely in the constantly inventive rhythm patterns of Wooton and Belote. If there is a weakness in the album, it is probably in Pierce’s slightly one-dimensional voice, which lacks the confidence and joie de vivre of the music that flows underneath it. This is brought into greater relief by the tracks with guest singers (Paul Wooton takes on the funky blues of “Don’t Give Up” – which also highlights the wild sax playing of Jeff T. Watkins – and “Iko Iko” sees Pierce, Paul Wooton, Charlie Wooton and Kaitlin Dibble take a verse each).
Overall however Shapes of Soul is a highly enjoyable release. Any album that can give “Iko Iko” a new lease of life has to be doing something right, and the version on Shapes of Soul is outstanding. This isn’t a pure blues album, but if you like solid blues-rock music with a strong New Orleans influence, you should like Shapes of Soul very much.