11 songs – 56 minutes
Well, this is a treat. Chicago-native Sam Cockrell issued two blues albums in 1999 and 2001 but then put his solo career on hold to play with a number of other bands. Now he has resurfaced with Trying To Make A Living Playing My Guitar, a top-quality slice of modern Chicago blues with strong funk and soul influences. Of course, Cockrell never really went away, being a long time favourite on the Chicago blues scene, but it is great to see him return to producing his own music.
Trying To Make A Living Playing My Guitar features 11 original songs all written by Cockrell, who handles all the bass and vocal duties. He has a clear, warm, powerful voice, reminiscent of Robert Cray, particularly on tracks such as “I’ve Got To Make Some Changes” and he often picks vocal melodies that are slightly unexpected, hanging onto a note slightly longer than other singers might, adding to the listener’s enjoyment.
Lyrically, Cockrell addresses the sacrifices that artists must make in order to make a living, both in the title track and “You Can Have It All If You Play The Game” as well as focusing on broader social issues in “This Ain’t Another Baby I Love You Song”, with its chorus of “This ain’t another ‘Baby I Love You’ song. It’s about real life, things in the world going on. Senseless killings, discrimination. Right-wing radicals spewing hate in the nation. Working class people are feeling the pain. They’ve had enough – things need to change.” He also proudly sings the praises of his hometown in “I’m From Chicago” and “Playin’ With My Friends”.
Musically, the tracks include straight ahead Chicago shuffles (such as “Blindsided By Love”), organ-led ballads such as “Live Can Be Complicated” and funky soul-blues songs like “You’re A Sellout”. “She’s Hot” is pure funk-pop-rock-dance, with a hypnotic bass line, but it sure makes for a great closing track. Cockrell regularly introduces clever twists into the song structures, for example the bass/organ breakdown on “Playin’ With My Friends”, a foot-tapping duet that also features the voice and guitar of Roger Girke.
In addition to Cockrell, other top drawer musicians on the album include Lynn Barry on vocals; Dan Tabion on keyboards; guitarists Lin Doughten, Joe LaSorte and Roger Girke; Darryl Brown on synthesizer; drummers Billy Meyers and Bredt Showell; Will Baker on trombone; Brian Crane on trumpet; and Bob Sass on saxophone. Doughten, LaSorte and Girke in particular add tasty, melodic and punchy guitar fills and solos and the horn section of Baker, Crane and Sass provide subtle, inventive backing throughout.
Trying To Make A Living Playing My Guitar benefits from superb production by Cockrell and LaSorte and comes in a beautifully packaged tri-fold cover. It is a very impressive release, and is particularly recommended for those listeners whose tastes extend to the likes of Prince and Earth Wind and Fire as well as modern electric Chicago blues.