13 songs – 59 minutes
If you can judge the quality of a musician by the company he keeps, then Chicago’s Dave Specter is an A-Lister. A native of the Windy City, he has backed such blues greats as Son Seals, The Legendary Blues Band, Hubert Sumlin, Sam Lay and Steve Freund.
He has also performed and recorded with a vast array of blues and jazz artists, including Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Jimmy Johnson, Jack McDuff, Johnny Adams, Snooky Pryor, Kim Wilson, Tad Robinson, John Primer, Johnny Littlejohn, B.B. Odom, Mighty Joe Young, Valerie Wellington, Magic Slim, Lonnie Brooks, Willie Kent, Ronnie Earl, Eric Alexander, Otis Clay, Floyd McDaniel, Pinetop Perkins and Sunnyland Slim. If any doubts remained about Specter’s abilities, however, his 10th release, Message In Blue, indisputably lays them to rest.
The 13 songs on the album comprise seven Specter instrumentals and six guest vocal slots shared between the legendary soul singer, Otis Clay, and Brother John Kattke (who also contributes keys). Clay’s three songs in particular are outstanding – Wilson Pickett’s (and the Falcons’) “I Found A Love” (with great tremolo guitar from Specter), Harold Burrage’s “Got To Find A Way”, and perhaps the emotional highlight of the album, “This Time I’m Gone For Good”, dedicated to the late, great Bobby “Blue” Bland.
Kattke more than holds his own on a cracking version of Freddie King’s “Same Old Blues” and the Lonnie Brooks shuffle, “Watchdog”. “Chicago Style” is especially noteworthy for Kattke’s superb Howlin’ Wolf impersonation whilst referencing the great man in the lyrics.
Specter is on fine form throughout the album. He has a muscular and assertive soloing style, and is not afraid to venture past the minor and major pentatonic scales, which adds to his singular tone. His instrumentals all feature memorable, distinctive melodies. The opening track, “New West Side Stroll”, is a prime example of this, even though it is actually an update of Specter’s own 1995 recording “West Side Stroll.” The title track, by contrast, displays a strong Hendrix influence, whilst still being all Specter.
Harmonica virtuoso Bob Corritore guests on two tracks on the album, the aptly-named “Opus De Swamp” and the rocking “Jefferson Stomp”, which sounds like a distant cousin to “Mystery Train” and also features some riotous slide guitar from Specter. Other musicians on the disc include Harlan Terson (on bass); Marty Binder (drums); Kenny Anderson (trumpet and flugelhorn); Bill McFarland (trombone): Hank Ford (tenor saxophone); Willie Henderson (baritone sax); Theresa Davis and Diane Madison (backing vocals); Victor Garcia (congas and percussion); John “Boom” Brumbach (tenor sax); Jim Tullio (acoustic bass guitar and percussion) and Travis T. Bernard (drums).
Of particular interest for audiophiles, Message In Blue is the first Delmark blues recording released on vinyl since 1991’s Bluebird Blues, also from Specter (with Barkin Bill & Ronnie Earl).
From the modern electric blues of “Chicago Style” to the soul-jazz of “The Stinger” and the funky R&B of “Funkified Outta Space”, this album covers a number of bases extremely well. Worth checking out.