11 songs – 44 minutes
Like the Prodigal Son, Bill Blue has returned from the wilderness. It’s been 30 years since he stepped into the studio, but he’s returned with a vengeance.
Blue – that’s his real name – was a young man when he met ‘50s superstar Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. That encounter changed Blue’s life forever. Instead of struggling as a guitarist in his native North Carolina, he was soon touring the world with the man who some folks considered the father of rock ‘n’ roll and who wrote a string of classics, including “Mean Ol’ Frisco,” “My Mama Don’t Allow Me” and the Elvis Presley hit, “That’s All Right.”
After Crudup died in 1974, Blue formed his own band and recorded two albums for the prestigious Adelphi label. But after 18 long years on the road, he called it quits. He headed to Key West, Fla., where he’s lived on a houseboat for most of the past three decades, occasionally leaving for festivals and tours of Europe. He’s been content with playing regular acoustic sets at Sloppy Joe’s and, later, the Green Parrot, two venerable watering holes once patronized by Ernest Hemingway.
This CD, which features Blue in a hard-driving electric setting with a full band and horn section, came about after a chance meeting with British producer Ian Shaw, who’d recently relocated to the Conch Republic. Available through Amazon and CDBaby, it includes 10 originals and features both his rough-hewn vocals and powerful guitar-slinging, aided by a stellar group of sidemen, including drummer Richard Crooks, who’s worked with Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, as well as British guitarist Matt Backer, who served as Julian Lennon’s band leader for eight years in addition to working with Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker and Emmylou Harris.
Rounding out the ensemble are guitarists Michael McAdam, “Caffeine Carl” Wagoner and Larry Baeder; bassists Francois Gehin, Dan Simpson and Drake Leonard, keyboardist Ericson Holt, vocalist Deb Hudson and the Funky In The Middle Horns: Rob Cutts (tenor sax), Jason Chapman (trumpet), Adam Seely (tenor and baritone sax), and Ed Leone and Christian Kollar (trombone).
Blue kicks off the thoroughly modern set with”It’s Gotta Change,” a steady driving message about paying one’s dues. His slide guitar propels the song forward. Next up, “Brand New Man” was written by Eddie Hinton and shouldn’t be confused with the Brooks and Dunn country hit. The horn section makes its first appearance as Blue’s distinctive, whisky-soaked vocals praise a brand new girl. The loping “Guitar Whore” delivers the message that the singer will “trade everything for that six-string gun.” It plays perfectly into the next tune, “Sing Like Thunder,” with its idea that nothing can slow him.
“Poor Boy Blues,” one of the most heavily recorded songs from the first generation of roots music, follows, with Blue on resonator, accompanied only by rhythm guitar. The tune provides a small break before the big band kicks in again with “Who Do You Think You Are,” a horn-fueled pleaser about someone who’s misused the singer’s trust, set off with a stinging guitar solo. “Barbeque Store” rips a mean old man who serves the worst food you’ve ever seen before the pace slows for the autobiographical “I Ain’t From Mississippi,” which states succinctly: “I don’t know much about nothin’/But I sure can play them blues.”
“Ain’t It Funny” takes an amusing, funky look at the wide swings we experience in life before the slow acoustic blues, “Who Let That Stranger In?” It deals with looking at one’s self in the mirror and not recognizing the person you see. The set concludes with an tribute to Crudup, “On The Road For Big Boy,” an enthusiastic anthem to continued touring.
This disc roars like a hurricane racing through the Keys…a welcome return for a true road warrior.