Gene “Daddy G” Barge – Olio | Album Review

genebargecdGene “Daddy G” Barge – Olio

Label: Wildroot Records (self release)

No website listed

11 songs – 55 minutes

Chicago sax legend Gene “Daddy G” Barge has adding his distinctive, soulful saxophone playing to numerous releases for over six decades now.  He played the haunting solo to Chuck Willis’ 1957 classic, “C.C. Rider”, in addition to spicing up a slew of Chess Records’ hits, such as Little Milton’s “We’re Gonna Make It”, Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” and Muddy Waters’ 1968 album, Electric Mud.

Barge’s new release, Olio, keeps the 87-year-old’s sax playing to the fore, but also enables him to display his strong singing voice, song-writing and production skills. Barge wrote or co-wrote 9 of the 11 songs on Olio, and also produced the album. During his time at Chess, in addition to acting as arranger, composer and house sax player and solo recording artist, Barge also produced a number of records for the company, including Buddy Guy’s first Chess LP Left My Blues In San Francisco.  On Olio, he has brought an objective but enthusiastic ear to the musical proceedings.  The result is an excellent depth and warmth to the joyful mix of modern jazz, blues and soul that dominates this release.

The noun Olio means a miscellaneous collection of things, derived from the old Spanish word for stew – “olla”. It also reflects the broad collection of songs and styles assayed by Barge on this album.  In his liner notes, Barge quotes the old English rhyme “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” and Olio contains the funky blues of “Shame On You, Shame On Me”; the modern jazz of “Safe Sax”, “More Love” and “Sweetness” (the latter written in memory of the Chicago Bears’ late, great running back, Walter Payton); the original songs such as “Give Me My Flowers Now” and “Reader Woman”; and the covers such as the instrumental version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” or Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes”, which features some superb singing and guitar playing by Criss “Righteous” Johnson. A number of songs, such as the aforementioned “Them Changes” and “All Or Nothing (At All)” have an almost 80s feel to them, partly due to the compressed drum sound, but also because of  the prominent use of synthesizer (and that is not intended as a criticism – a lot of great, under-rated music was produced in that decade). In any event, the songs are all held together thematically by Barge’s infectious sax solos and by the groove nailed down by the stellar backing musicians. A lot of different players appear on the various songs, but Will Crosby plays most of the guitar, Leonard Stroud and Vern Allison share most of the drum parts, Phil Castleberry assumes most of the bass duties and Richard Gibbs and Matt Rose provide most of the keys. Horns and strings also provide support on some songs.

Olio also features guest appearances from a range of great Chicago musicians, including Buddy Guy (who adds more vocals than guitar to “Shame On You, Shame On Me”), Otis Clay, Willie Rogers, Criss Johnson, Eric Thomas and Will Crosby as well as the Phenix Horns (aka The Earth, Wind & Fire Horns).

There is a relaxed ambiance to Olio: a sense of musicians at peace with themselves and their worlds. Solos are shared around; the musicians are given the time to stretch out and express themselves.  And the result is an enjoyable release that never loses sight of the importance of the song as well as the demonstrable skill of the soloists.

If your tastes run to the jazzier side of blues and soul, or if you just enjoy hearing well-played music with lashings of fine saxophone, you will find a lot to enjoy on this album. 

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