Grady Champion – Bootleg Whiskey | Album Review

gradychampioncdGrady Champion – Bootleg Whiskey

www.gradychampion.com

Malaco Records – 2014

11 tracks; 46 minutes 

The self-described “torch carrier for authentic Mississippi blues” (and 2010 IBC winner) Grady Champion grew up on great Malaco records by the likes of ZZ Hill, Bobby Bland and Little Milton so his signing to the veteran soul label is a natural fit, despite Grady having set up his own label Dechamp with well received albums by Eddie Cotton and JJ Thames.  Malaco seems equally pleased to sign Grady who label head Tommy Couch Jr. describes as “the next big blues guy”.  Truth be told, this CD is as much soul as blues as Malaco put Grady into the studio with a band that includes some great horn players, resulting in a fine collection of mainly soul-blues material.

The CD features Grady on vocals and harp, David Hood or Ray Braswell on bass, Forest Gordon or James Robinson on drums, Clayton Ivey, William Purvis and Michael Thomas on keys, Barry Leach, Taylor Scott, Stevie J, Maurice Morgan, Jimmy Johnson, Castro Coleman and Mike Griffin on guitar, Kimble Funches on trumpet, Micah Brown on sax and William Brown on trombone, with arrangements by Harrison Callaway.  Background vocals are by Darrell Luster, Ray Braswell, William Purvis, Vick Allen, Sonja Allen, JJ Thames and The Crowns Of Joy.  The album was recorded at Malaco’s studios in Jackson, Mississippi, recorded and mixed by Kent Bruce and produced by Tommy Couch Jr. himself.  The material is a mixture of originals written by Grady with collaborators Darrell Luster and Larry Grisham who also contribute their own songs (two from Darrell and one from Larry).  The three covers from outside the wider band come from George Jackson, Ernie Johnson and Jerry Strickland.

The album opens with Larry Grisham’s brisk “Beg, Borrow, Steal” with Grady’s harp and Barry Leach’s guitar to the fore.  There are no horns on this track but it swings along well before a great cover of George Jackson’s “Bootleg Whiskey” introduces the horn section to bring in that classic soul feel.  Although this one provides the title track for the album one suspects that Grady would not want the chorus to be his epitaph: “Bootleg whiskey and a cheap motel really rock my world; bootleg whiskey and a cheap motel with a lil’ ole ugly girl.”!  Soul singer Ernie Johnson is the source for “Don’t Waste My Time”, a track originally on Ernie’s 1995 album “In The Mood” and it’s another classic piece of soul music with the insistent piano motif and horns coming in to underline the chorus.  Grady combined with Larry Grisham on “Home Alone”, a really catchy tune with the horns supporting Grady’s harp on the intro and driving the tune along superbly.  Grady’s vocals are suitably lovelorn on this tale of being deserted by his lover and his harp is again a feature on “Ten Dollars”, the only song that he wrote on his own on this collection.  This one is a blues in structure but with Grady’s soul-soaked voice and the baying horns it tips its hat to the soul side also.

Darrell Luster’s “South Side” is a glorious piece of pure soul music which has all the elements required for that accolade – foot-tapping rhythm, good horn chart, bubbling guitar and organ accompaniment and superb lead and backing vocals – great stuff! “Who Dat?” is Grady and Larry’s tune and is far more an urban soul style with its repetitive chorus and cool horns.  JJ Thames provides some outstanding vocal support in the background and Grady’s lead vocal is excellent too.  “Here We Go Y’All”, the second Grady and Larry collaboration is also repetitive but in a less convincing way, possibly revealing the influence of Grady’s period as a rapper.  Darrell Lusher’s “I Tripped And Fell In Love” brings back the horns on a beautiful soul tune well delivered by Grady with solid choral support from Vick and Sonya Allen.  Darrell’s final contribution is the co-write with Grady of “Mr Right” with its bright intro and shuffling rhythm though the lyrics about “settling for Mr Wrong until Mr Right comes along” break no new ground.  The album closes with an interesting tune written by Jerry Strickland entitled “White Boy With The Blues”, the tale of a black boy meeting a white boy who clearly had some similar problems in their young lives, a tale that almost inevitably ends in tragedy.  Grady’s vocal is virtually spoken and the backing vocals from The Crowns Of Joy include extracts from “Precious Memories” and “Amazing Grace” to add to the gospel feel of the piece.

Overall this is a solid album of soul-blues with several outstanding tracks, well worth the attention of blues fans who like to mix plenty of soul into their blues cocktails.

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