15 tracks / 50:38
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Michael Barclay has an extensive history with all kinds of music, having worked as a sideman with artists as diverse as rock pioneer Chuck Berry (back in the 1960s!), jazzman Randy Crawford, and the B-3 master himself, Merl Saunders. Hailing from Northern California, Michael has been steadily churning out self-produced albums that cover a lot of ground, including last year’s very good blue-rock collection, King of Hearts.
Tracks is Barclay’s fifth solo release, and the new album is subtitled “A Blues, Funk, and World Music Ride for the Discerning Traveler.” That does a great job summing up what is going on here, as Michael does not confine himself to any one genre, and he generates many different moods and emotions. He did a lot of the heavy lifting on this disc, as he wrote thirteen of the tracks, provided the vocals, and laid down a good portion of the guitar, bass, organ, piano, trumpet, and synthesizer parts. He was joined by Roger Volz on saxophone for a number of the tracks, and a few other guest musicians filled in as needed.
Michael leads off this album with “California Burnin’” and this gives the listener an insider’s view of living in brushfire country, one of the perils of the Golden State. This story is set to a 1980s style blues-rock soundtrack complete with very well done clean lead guitar work from Barclay and solid drums from guest artist Tommy Miles. Moving to more a more traditional blues subject is “Is it Him or is it Me,” which is about a man who needs to know where he really stands with his lady. This song uses 1980s synthesizer and vocal sounds that give the feel of the low-key rock that Clapton was doing 30 years ago.
There are a few tracks where the lyrics take a backseat to the music and the words are just used to help cement the message of the song. One example of this is “I’m So Weary” which has the same two lines, “I’m so weary / boy oh don’t you know,” set to a smooth Afro Cuban beat. This song uses hand percussion and light-hearted guitar lines from Kendrick Freeman and Andrew Ohren to achieve more of an island sound. Another is “Lucky Streak,” a slow-paced funky rocker with simple instrumentation (bass, guitar, and drums) and a 1980s vibe.
Two cover tunes are also included on Tracks, and they are not the usual ones that everybody else seems to redo. There is a dark version of “I’m a Man” from the Spencer Davis Group (remember Steve Winwood?) that is heavy enough that it changes the mood from a proud declaration into a brooding melancholy. Then there is an upbeat instrumental, “Hoodoo Snake Doctor Blues,” that Johnny Shines originally recorded in 1970. Barclay does a fine job with the organ and guitar here, and his soloing has a very natural feel and pace.
As most of the songs are relatively short, Michael found room for four other instrumentals on this disc and these cover a variety of sounds and moods. “Mike’s Blues” has a funky 1970s blues sound with a slick sax lead, and solos that are traded off from Volz’s sax to Barclay’s guitar to Lowell “Banana” Levinger’s organ. Other guest musicians were brought in for this track, including Bill Boggio on guitar, Terry Baker on drums, and Kent Fosgreen on bass. Michael also experiments with the Jamaica sound on “Reggae Man,” a modern tune that uses keyboards to good effect, including a neat steel drum sample. Then there is “Tracks,” a laid-back jazzy blues song that has a smooth guitar lead and a pulsing bass line. And lastly, Michael closes the album out with “F-bomb” a short solo acoustic guitar track that ties everything together as it reminds the listener of what the blues is all about and where it came from.
This about covers it for Tracks, and Michael Barclay definitely accomplished his goal of providing entertainment for individuals who like variety in their musical collection. Give it a listen for yourself, and please remember to support local independent musicians, as there is a lot of good stuff to be found out there!