Billy Seward – South Shore
11 songs – 46 minutes
It’s been a long time since Florida-based Billy Seward has called the Chicago area home, but the music of his childhood definitely made a lasting impression. He’s called upon some true heavyweights for a helping hand to produce this outstanding collection of modern soul-blues with a distinctly true Windy City feel.
A native of nearby Muncie, Ind., who spent time in Memphis and on both coasts before settling in the sunny climes of Sarasota, Fla., Billy’s always been captivated by the sounds he heard emanating from WVON and other high-powered radio stations a short drive to the northwest. As a young man, he fell in love with West Side bluesmen Fenton Robinson, Magic Sam and Otis Rush as well as South Side soul artists like Curtis Mayfield, Tyrone Davis, Johnny Taylor and Harold Burrage and their Memphis cousins.
Their influence has always formed the backbone of his personal vision. All but Otis are long gone now, but if they’d gotten a chance to listen to South Shore, Seward’s first release since Better Place in 2011, they’d be beaming approval. Its title is a tip of the fedora to the commuter railroad that runs between his hometown and the Loop.
Billy called out the big guns to make it happen. The album was recorded at the Delmark Records studio under the direction of engineer Steve Wagner and produced by Dave Specter, the top-flight guitarist and bar owner. And it features a guest appearance of one of Seward’s other childhood heroes, Jimmy Johnson, still the powerhouse standard bearer of the Chicago sound at 88 years old.
The rhythm section includes a pair of all-stars: drummer Marty Binder, who’s backed Albert Collins, Deborah Coleman and a host of others, and bassist Harlan Lee Terson, who’s recorded with a who’s who of Windy City talent including Rush, Johnny Littlejohn, Lonnie Brooks, Eddie Shaw and many others. They’re augmented by keyboard player John Kattke and harmonica player Tom Moore. Willie Henderson, the baritone sax player who’s been a Memphis and Chicago soul institution since the ‘60s, fronts a horn section that includes Doug Corcoran on trumpet and Steve Eisen on tenor sax.
But Seward is the real star here. He possesses a rich, warm, melismatic tenor that might remind some listeners of Tad Robinson, the Indianapolis-based soul-blues giant. And his guitar playing remains rooted and true to the West Side sound. A guitar run and horn flourish introduce the opener, “The Hawk.” It’s a sweet, soulful plea for a woman to help him overcome the wickedly chilling wind that blows between the canyon of skyscrapers during a brutal Midwest winter.
Another original, “Chicago Woman,” begins with a harp line atop a medium-fast shuffle and describes a lady “with men wrapped around her fingers/And the whole world at your feet.” Next up, Billy gets an assist from Johnson as they team to sing a cover of “Strange How I Miss You,” a song Jimmy wrote and first recorded decades ago, with Specter handling the guitar solo.
The autobiographical cover tune “South Shore” recounts leaving home and wondering if things could ever be the same. “I Hear The Love Chimes,” once a hit for Syl Johnson, Jimmy’s brother, and Junior Parker’s “Love Ain’t Nothin’ But A Business Goin’ On” both get new treatments before the original “Take It All” insists that the woman “do it slowly” if she’s going to go. Another well-chosen cover, Memphian Don Bryant’s “I Can’t Take It,” follows before three more rock-solid Seward-penned tunes — “Westside Ride,” “Thinking About You” and “Blues Don’t Bother Me” – polish off the action.
The Suncoast Blues Society recently recognized South Shore as the winner of its self-produced CD competition, and for good reason. If you love old-school Chicago soul-blues like I do, you’ll simply adore this one. It’s that good. Available through Amazon, CDBaby another other online retailers.