13 songs – 49 minutes
Well, this is a treat. Houston native Jonn Del Toro Richardson seems to have been around for a while, winning the Albert King Award for most promising guitarist at the 2005 Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge, working as a sideman to the likes of Otis Taylor and mandolinist Rich DelGrosso as well as performing on Pinetop Perkins’ Grammy winning record, Last Of The Mississippi Bluesmen with Robert Jr. Lockwood, Henry Townsend and Honeyboy Edwards. Tengo Blues, however, is Richardson’s first solo CD and it is an absolute ripper.
Richardson wrote all 13 songs on the album as well as singing and playing guitar. Backed by a crack band of Wes Starr on drums, Nathan Rowe on bass, keyboardist Nick Connoly, and Lawrence Del Toro (Richardson’s uncle) on percussion, together with Anson Funderburgh on guitar for two tracks and the always-bang-on Texas Horns on seven tracks, he has produced a first class slab of smoking modern Texas blues that contains more than a hint of swinging Latin influence.
Opening with the horn-driven soul-blues of “Behind the Curtain”, Richardson sings with warmth and passion, while his guitar solo perfectly echoes the uplifting message of the lyrics, initially sounding uncertain but growing in confidence and purpose to reach a place of strength and comfort. Likewise, on the upbeat blues of “I’m Her Man”, Richardson’s muscular yet punchy soloing style perfectly reflects the lyrical content of the track. Indeed, his guitar playing is a joy throughout, never over-playing but always playing with beautiful tone, melody and emotion. Check out “Wild Ride”, a song into which most guitarists would cram as many notes as possible but on which Richardson displays admirable restraint whilst still sounding as if he is flying by the seat of his pants (which, given the lyrics, is particularly apt).
But Richardson is not just about the guitar playing. His songs are equally impressive. He dips his toes into some light jazz-influenced swing on the instrumental “Triple Lindig”, which also contains some tasty organ from Connoly, and goes back to his ancestral roots on the Latin groove of “The Moment” with some typically stellar horn work from Messrs Kazanoff, Mills and Gomez. He even combines hints of both jazz and Latin on the instrumental title track. Tracks such as “Can’t Run From Love” and “Tell Me Do You Love Me” straddle the line between soul, blues, pop and rock. But the foundation stone and heartbeat of the album is modern Texas-style blues, as exemplified by the likes of “Get Me Back To Texas”, “Love If You Want It”, “Tall Pretty Baby” and “This I Know”.
Tengo Blues is produced by Anson Funderburgh, who achieves a wonderfully warm, spacious feel on every track. Funderburgh’s contribution is worth commenting upon, given that his involvement in a project seems to carry with it the imprimatur of quality, from his own recordings to his recent work with Mark Hummel’s Golden State Lone Star Review or the Andy T-Nick Nixon Band’s last two unmissable releases. Tengo Blues sits comfortably alongside such lauded company.
Tengo Blues is a thrillingly enjoyable debut from Richardson, who is clearly a serious talent. This is one of this reviewer’s favourite albums of the year.