Buddy Guy – The Blues Is Alive And Well
Silvertone Records / RCA Records
Right from the start, Buddy Guy makes it clear that he is not resting on his legendary status, firing off taut licks on his BG Blonde Stratocaster as he delivers a doleful plea on mortality, looking back over eighty-one years of life on “A Few Good Years”. His gripping vocal serves as a reminder that Guy has always been an outstanding singer, a fact he reinforces repeatedly throughout the disc. The following track, “Guilty As Charged,” is an energetic shuffle with the singer battling to resist the charms of a former flame. Both tracks feature producer Tom Hambridge on drums, Rob McNelley on rhythm guitar, Kevin MdKendree on keyboards and Willie Weeks on bass.
“Cognac” is a fitting celebration of Guy’s beverage of choice, elevated by the presence of guests Keith Richards and Jeff Beck, the three guitarists trading solos while Guy sends a shout-out to an old friend, singing,”If the late Muddy Waters was here drinking with us, that bottle would be ten times gone!”. James Bay, a platinum-selling English singer & songwriter, joins Guy for a soothing duet on “Blue No More,” complete with B.B.King-style guitar over a slow-rolling groove on a track written by Hambridge and country star Jamey Johnson. Tommy MacDonald steps in on bass. Things take on a harder edge on “Bad Day,” with Guy issuing a clear warning that he best be left alone, as he is in no mood to deal with his woman or the local police. Emil Justian, who once fronted Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s band, contributes some rudimentary harp blowing. The final guest is Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger, blowing some telling harmonica fills on a slow blues gem, “You Did The Crime,” as Guy doubles up on a Martin BG acoustic and Guild Starfire 4S guitars while McNelley uses slide for his contribution.
The Muscle Shoals Horns – Charles Rose on trombone & horn arrangements, Steve Herrman on trumpet, Doug Moffet on tenor sax, and Jim Hoke on baritone sax – make their presence felt on three tracks. On the title track, co-written by Hambridge and Gary Nicholson, Guy relates his heart-wrenching reactions to an unfaithful woman, still trying to break free of her icy grip. The horns seamlessly meld with Guy’s voice as he bares his soul while utilizing a guitar lick borrowed from Otis Rush. “Old Fashioned” finds the section hitting hard with plenty of swagger to support Guy’s blistering solo, pushed by McKendree on the Hammond B3 organ. Guy waxes nostalgic one more time on “End Of The Line,” singing about having one foot in the grave. But the brawny horn embellishments and another fiery guitar interlude certainly tell a different tale.
Another highlight is a rousing cover of the Sonny Boy Williamson classic, “Nine Below Zero,” with Guy peeling back the years with a vibrant, emotionally-charged performance on vocal and guitar. “Ooh Daddy” is a boogie that percolates along with fine guitar interplay between Guy and McNelley. The ghost of John Lee Hooker creeps into “Somebody Up There,” a stark, passionate testament to the spirits watching over us. “Whiskey For Sale” takes a funky approach, benefiting from Regina & Ann McCrary on backing vocals, but generic lyrics prevent the track from taking off. Guy takes one more look at mortality on “When My Day Comes,” envisioning the moment when he will lay down one last time under the weeping willow tree. At the close of the disc, Guy delivers a salacious snippet, entitled “Milking Muther For You,” leaving no doubt that he is still a simple, down-home blues man at heart.
Throughout his career, Buddy Guy has been known for his guitar prowess. Often times his skill as a singer would slide by with little notice. On this release, he consistently reaches into the emotional depths, often with bone-chilling intensity, conveying hard-earned lessons on life and the people you meet along the way. Even the guests, for all of their combined star power, get regulated to the background by the sheer raw energy that Guy taps into on every track. This may not rise to the level of his classic recordings for Chess Records. But this is Buddy Guy doing his best to remind us what the blues is all about. Mission accomplished!