John Primer – The Soul of a Blues Man
Blues House Productions
John Primer releases his first soul blues album backed by his regular band and some special guests and it’s a winner! Three new songs coupled with nine soul blues classics give the listener a compendium of interesting cuts to savor. The album has cuts made famous by Johnny Taylor, Bobby Bland, Freddy King, Brook Benton, Clarence Carter, Lloyd Price and Toussaint McCall along with a nice trio of new cuts and blues tunes that Primer’s fans new and old will enjoy.
John’s band is the quite talented, featuring Steve Bell on harp, Lenny Media on drums, Chuckaluck on bass, and Ronnie Hicks on keys. His adding Steve Bell to his band has made this CD and his live shows even better. Son of Carey Bell, Steve is an outstanding harmonica wizard and makes for an outstanding pairing with Primer on stage and in the studio. Guests Charles Kimble on sax and Grammy winner Billy Flynn as a special guest on guitar fill out the ensemble and make for a full and very cool sound. Primer is known for his guitar work since his days with Muddy Waters, but he has also always been an extremely capable and soulful vocalist who has a unique presence behind the microphone.
The album gets underway Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away.” His approach turns the tune into a blend of soul and Chicago blues with his own style of vocals and some powerful harp by Bell. “Help Me Through the Night” was made famous both by Bobby Bland and Freddy King. Primer takes a metered approach to pacing out the vocals with soul and a touch of country blues; the sax work adds a nice touch to the cut, too, taking the sound up several notches. His guitar is also both thoughtful and stinging, giving the song more taste. “Meet Me in the Morning” is a Bob Dylan song that Freddy King also covered. Primer’s vocals are actually a lot better and his guitar holds its’ own. The use of Bell’s harp not just as foil but as a major part of the cover also makes for a cool touch. The first original is “You Shouldn’t Tell A Lie.” This is pretty much straight up Chicago blues with perhaps the flair of some Jimmy Reed styled harp.
Toussaint McCall’s “Nothing Takes the Place Of You” takes on a new face with Primer’s less “churchy” approach. McCall’s forthright vocals and backing solo organ are great, but Primer gives it a more modern soul sound with a touch of Chicago blues. Bell’s harp once again is used effectively to sweeten the pot. The Lloyd Price doo wop classic “Stagger Lee” gets turned more into a Chicago blues song than a soul song, but it’s still cool and Steve Smith once again nails his harp solo and support. Primer’s guitar is also quite cool. The second original is “Please Don’t Leave Me Baby,” another soulful new Chicago blues by Primer and company. Thoughtful guitar and harp and a clean sound are hallmarks here. “Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time” is another Bobby Bland tune. Here the cut benefits from a nice dose of horns for soul and harp for blues while Primer puts his spin on the cut vocally. Different than Bland, and well done.
“Rainy Night in Georgia” is Tony Joe White’s classic that Brooks Benton’s made his own in 1970. Primer’s guitar and Bell’s harp make the intro and backing support light and airy; Primer’s vocals are good and his approach interesting. He’s been doing the song a lot at his live performances which you can tell because he sings it with comfort and feeling. The final original is “Meet Me in the Park,” a very nice shuffle. Primer shows us his roots in Chicago blues once again. Humorous lyrics, cool harp and great guitar help sell this one. Primer again turns to a Bobby Bland Malaco Records standard with “Members Only.” Primer gives it his all and does a nice job. His tenor compared to Bland’s baritone obviously creates a different feel, but it’s still good. Bell’s harp also makes for a cool cover as does Primer on his guitar. Primer turns to Johnny Taylor for the last cut; “Still Called the Blues” is a Chitlin Circuit big band soul tune with backing female vocalists. Primer takes it to The South Side of Chicago with his guitar and Bell’s harp. Hos vocals are his own and he puts his stamp on the cut.
Primer does not try to be anything but himself. His soulful blues voice offers a different approach to the soul tunes here and I think he’s successful at what he attempted. He’s not trying to be Bobby Bland, Johnny Taylor, Brooks Benton or anyone else, he’s being himself and singing stuff he enjoys. The blues stuff is tight, the soul is fun and his synergy with Steve Bell is quite apparent. Primer’s fans will love this as will fans of Chicago blues. This is stuff Primer brings to his live act and he enjoys playing to his audiences with it. He’s comfortable singing blues or soul and we what we have gotten with this is a fine soul blues album delivered by one of the masters of Chicago blues.