Backtrack Blues Band – Your Baby Has Left | Album Review

Backtrack Blues Band – Your Baby Has Left

VizzTone Label Group VT-BTB07

9 songs – 47 minutes

One of the longest running bands in Florida, the Backtrack Blues Band has been operating out of the Tampa Bay, when they were founded by vocalist/harp player Sonny Charles and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Little Johnny Walter. But they cut new ground here, making their debut on Boston-based VizzTone Records.

A five-piece band who primarily deliver music based in the Chicago tradition with a little Texas blues, Southern rock and what they term “Dirty South” sounds thrown in for good measure. Their first venture in a studio came in 1983 with the release of Dress It Up on the True Tone imprint. This is their seventh release, which includes stops at Kingsnake, once one of the foremost independent labels in the U.S., and Harpo Records, which issued their well-received live album/concert DVD combo, Make My Home in Florida, in 2018.

Charles and Walter have been sharing stages since meeting as students at the University of North Carolina in the ‘70s. They formed Backtrack after relocating to the Sunshine State at the dawn of the ‘80s. Festival favorites, they’ve toured the U.S. and Canada ever since with occasional trips to Europe, frequently appearing as the opening act for several of the biggest names in the business.

The roster also includes Kid Royal, who doubles on vocals and Texas-style lead guitar, as well as bassist Jeff “Stick” Davis, a Grammy-winner with the country-rock band The Amazing Rhythm Aces, and longtime percussionist Joe Bencomo. Perennial Blues Music Awards candidate Bruce Katz joins in on keyboards along with the Muscle Shoals Horns — Vinnie Ciesielski on trumpet and Brad Guin on saxes – as well as Latonya Oliver and Dana Merriwether on backing vocals.

This disc was recorded at Big 3 Studios in St. Petersburg, Fla., as well as the legendary FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Eight of the nine tracks here are Backtrack originals, with Charles – who plays harp in a style reminiscent of Paul Butterfield – penning the first six and Royal – who plays guitar in the T-Bone Walker/Freddie King tradition – the two numbers that close the set.

Royal’s six-string opens “Best Friend’s Grave (Joy, Joy, Joy)” with Charles adding accents. Despite its theme, it’s a pleasant, loping shuffle with minor gospel overtones that celebrates joining in for a graveside songfest several years ago. Sonny’s mid-tune, single-note solo shines, and his vocals, although limited in range, are a pleasant, potent baritone.

The title tune, “Your Baby Has Left,” is a stop-time, uptempo Windy City blues driven by Charles’ powerful attack on the reeds. The horn section chimes in for the first time on “Dixie Grill,” a fiery boogie that’s also propelled by Katz’s distinctive barrelhouse stylings on the 88s. The band takes you on a road trip to Chicago for the percussive shuffle, “Killin’ Time,” before dipping in to Jimmy Reed’s songbook for an interesting take on the familiar “Natural Born Lover,” which lopes steadily with an easy/greasy feel.

The dynamics change as Royal handles the mike for “You’ll Come Back Someday.” It’s a medium-fast shuffle, and the timing of his delivery swings slightly behind the beat as both Charles and Katz shine in instrumental leads. Sonny’s back in charges for “Girl on Bordeaux Mountain,” a love song about a woman living on the British West Indies isle of Tortola, before Kid takes you home with the boogie “She Might Get Mad” and “Times Is Hard,” the only slow blues in the set.

Available through Amazon and other retailers or direct from the band (address above), Your Baby Has Left doesn’t cut much new ground, but it’s a rock-solid example of a seasoned band at its best. It’s the perfect medicine for whatever ails ya!

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