Big Daddy Wilson – Hard Time Blues
Continental Blue Heaven Records CBHCD 2041
13 songs – 53 minutes
An ex-pat American born in Edenton, N.C., Big Daddy Wilson has been a star on the European acoustic blues scene in the ‘80s, but came full circle to his roots in 2019 with Deep in My Soul, a stellar, all-electric effort that proved his prowess in that format, too. He continues that journey with this powerful CD, venturing into territory he’s never gone before with a mixed-media set of originals infused with contemporary themes and deep religious overtones.
Born Adam Wilson Blount on Aug. 19, 1960, Big Daddy grew up in poverty, sang in the church and quit school at age 16 to join the Army. Despite having been raised in the heart of Piedmont blues country, he didn’t discover the music until adulthood in Germany, where he quickly won over audiences with his original tunes at jams.
Released on the Netherlands-based Continental Blue Heaven imprint, this is Wilson’s 13th album, which includes two early CDs on Germany’s Ruf imprint, stops at four more European labels – DixieFrog, Phamosa, Crossroads and New Music Distribution – before returning to Ruf for his four latest albums, the most recent of which was produced by Grammy winner Jim Gaines in Alabama.
Hard Time Blues was recorded in England, Sweden, Germany and Italy under the direction of Glen Scott, a multi-instrumentalist who also contributes drums, bass, organ, keys and electric guitar. A powerful, emotive baritone, Big Daddy shines on vocals in a set that includes appearances from perennial Blues Music Award honoree Eric Bibb.
While Wilson is an accomplished guitarist in his own right, he only picks up the six-string on one tune here, leaving those responsibilities to Scott, Bibb, Stefan Astner, Christer Lyssarides, Mike Titre and Cesare Nolli, who also doubles on banjo. Rounding out the roster are Klaus Grossert (harp), Nicolo Taccori (drums), Enzo Messina (piano) and Shaneeka Simon, Paolo Legramandi and Enzo Messina on backing vocals.
Big Daddy penned 11 of the 13 tracks, and Bibb contributed the two others, including “Yazoo City,” which opens the action with images of the Delta and describes almost losing his mind along with everything else after a levee break inundates the community and forces the singer to make a new life elsewhere. The search continues in “The City Street (Ps. 23),” which percolates from the jump as it intersperses Bible verses with a description of traveling down a lonely road.
The soulful title tune, the ballad “Hard Time Blues,” is another Bibb creation that continues the message forward, this time with images of Hurricane Katrina and the struggling humanity left in its wake while “Poor Black Children” is a stripped-down, gospel- and field-holler send-up that describes the kids toiling in the fields under a blazing sun as it insists that “all God’s children come from the same oak tree.”
Beginning with a medium-tempo, half-sung, half spoken intro, the mood brightens with “Meatballs,” a medium-paced love song that features Shaneeka sharing vocals. Big Daddy announces he’s on his way home with a hankering for collard greens and steak, but she replies that she’s got something else simmering on the stove. Images of growing up in poverty go hand-in-hand with deep faith in the spiritual, “He Cares for Me,” before the touching, soulful “Dearly Beloved” mourns the loss of a love eternal at the woman’s funeral.
The sweet ballad, “New Born,” celebrates the entry of a boy into the world and the love that created it, a theme that continues in the slow shuffle, “I Can’t Help but Love You,” before sounds of the Delta return in “A Letter,” which offers up a prayer to end racism. Three more tunes with deep spiritual messages — “Maybe It’s Time,” “Testimony” and “He Cares for Me (remix)” – bring the album to an inspirational close.
Big Daddy Wilson deserves far more attention in his homeland than he receives. This disc is an emotion-packed treasure. Give this one a spin. You’ll agree. Available through Amazon and other online outlets.