10 tracks / 43:40
Bobby G (Robert Lee Gray) is slightly tardy to the music game with his debut album, but this guy is still a player and his new disc proves that 73 years old is definitely not too late to hit the studio. Bobby has quite a history, growing up in Mississippi where he frequented juke joints, then as a teenager he moved to Toledo to live with family. In the Buckeye State Bobby grew into manhood singing in clubs and also landed a job with the city, but in 1980 he took a break from the stage for a few decades after the birth of his son. After 39 years with the city he retired and returned to the stage, and after a few more decades of on-the-job training Bobby has hooked up with a solid band for a strong debut, Still Standing.
That band would be Curtis Grant Jr. & the Midnight Rockers who are also based out of Toledo, Ohio, and each of them has decades of practical musical experience. Curtis plays the skins, Larry Gold handles the guitars parts, and Johnny “Hifi” Newmark holds down the bottom end on bass. A soul blues legend, Johnny Rawls, also worked on this project as the producer and songwriter, as well as pitching in on the keyboards and some of the guitar parts.
Still Standing includes ten tracks, all of them originals that were written by Rawls and Linda Francis. The group was blessed with the ability to use the studio at the Toledo School for the Arts in downtown Toledo. One of the school’s instructors, Walter “Mac” McKeever, engineered and mixed this album, and he has disproved the myth that “those who can’t do, teach.” The production is tight, with clear sound and a well miced and balanced instrumental mix. This guy knows what he is doing, and it is so cool that he is teaching the next generation of studio engineers.
You will experience this expertise from the first track, as “Still Standing” launches with five minutes of friendly soul and blues. There is nothing over the top here, with conventional blues guitar taking the lead over a rolling bass line; this is a perfect accompaniment to Bobby’s conversational presentation of the lyrics. His voice is a little weathered, but still quite smooth, and the overall effect is mesmerizing. The rest of the album does not need a lot of complicated explanations about how the songs are built – this is pure soul and blues, so there will not be any hyphenated subgenres to wade through in this review. In fact, the next song in the set is a slow and sweet piece of 12-bar electric blues with wonderful lead guitar work from Larry Gold. This ballad celebrates a woman who is indeed, as “Good as Gold,” which is a sentiment that any of us can get behind!
There is a definite 1960s vibe throughout Still Standing, and after “Ball and Chain” (no relation to the Social Distortion song) the band adds a little more soul to the blues with “Love, Love, Love.” This tune is built around rhythmic handclaps, with an excellent display of different guitar tones from Mr. Gold. Bobby G explores the lower registers of his impressive range, and his growly parts are just as enjoyable as his smooth highs. This is one of the standout tracks on the disc, as is “The Worst Feeling,” and the closer, “Feels So Good,” a good-times ode to Bobby’s hometown in Mississippi. The latter is a classic electric blues song with the unbreakable backline of Grant and Newmark, and layers of clean guitars from Gold. The upbeat lyrics really put this tune over the top, and it is a neat way to finish things up.
Still Standing is a classic blues album that is full of solid songs played by the fine musicians of Curtis Grant Jr. and the Midnight Rockers, and Bobby G sings all of the lyrics with great skill. If you dig this sort of stuff (and who doesn’t?) you will have the opportunity to hear them in person if you are around the Toledo area, as there are a few local gigs listed on the Third Street Cigar Records website. Bobby G is no stranger to the stage, and his decades of experience guarantee that the show will be tight. Check them out and see what you think!