One Man And His Dog Records
10 songs – 44 minutes
Work That Jelly! represents the welcome return to recording of Matthew Robinson, the Texas singer and guitarist who has been performing for over 50 years, including as the lead singer of The Mustangs, with whom he toured extensively opening for the likes of Jimmy Reed, James Brown, Big Mama Thornton and Johnny Winter. In 2012, Robinson received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Austin Blues Society, a good indication of the respect in which he is held in the Lone Star State.
The opening song on the album, Taj Mahal’s “Strut”, sets the tone for what follows. The band lays down a smooth funky shuffle as Robinson sings the immortal opening line of: “You should have never said you loved me when laid across my folding bed, baby you was drinking that white lightning and you was talking all out of your head.” “Strut” features a harmonica solo from Steve Power, an organ solo from Ron D’Argenio and typically low-down-but-tasty lead guitar from special guest, W.C. Clark. The rhythm section of Pete “The Beat” Langhans on drums and Jeff Hayes on bass keeps the track in the groove throughout. “Strut” is followed by the swinging shuffle of Bruce McCabe’s “Rack ‘Em Up”, in which the rhythm section again excels and the other musicians are offered ample space to stretch out in their solos.
All 10 songs on the album are cover versions, most of which are well known and they are nearly all played pretty close to the originals (such as Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Didn’t Know”, Tab Benoit and Tabby Thomas’ “It Takes A Long Time, Baby” or ZZ Hill’s “I’m Gonna Stop You From Giving Me The Blues”) although the reworking of Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” replaces the backing horns of the original with Steve Power’s harmonica and D’Argenio’s organ. Little Milton’s stellar lead guitar playing is matched by W.C. Clark’s subtle and tasteful playing on the remake). Indeed, the three songs on which Clark appears all benefit from the stardust of his superb guitar. His solo on “It Takes A Long Time, Baby” is particularly impressive.
Robinson has a distinctive and expressive singing voice, even if at times he seems to be trying to channel the vocal mannerisms of the original singer (such as on Jimmy Reed’s “Going To New York” or Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Asked For Water”). When he is utterly himself, such as on “It Takes A Long Time, Baby” or “I’m Gonna Stop You From Giving Me The Blues” it is easy for the listener to get lost in his wonderfully emotional voice.
If there is a criticism of the album, it is that the production by Steve Power does not capture the full brio of a live Matthew Robinson performance, perhaps because D’Argenio’s piano and organ is quite high in the mix, which adds a certain smoothness when Robinson’s voice might benefit from a little more grit in the backing arrangements.
Be that as it may, Work That Jelly! has more than a few magical moments and is worth investigating, especially if your tastes lean towards the smoother end of the modern blues spectrum.