Billy Flynn – Lonesome Highway | Album Review

Billy Flynn – Lonesome Highway

Delmark Records

17 tracks

Born in Green Bay, Billy Flynn was playing outside a local club in 1970 where Jimmy Dawkins, Billy’s idol, was going to play.  Billy had grown up loving Dawkins along with Luther Allison, Johnny Littlejohn and Mighty Joe Young.  Dawkins heard him, invited him in to  go on stage and then took him  under his wing and into his band where he stayed for the remainder of the 1970’s.  He then played with Sunnyland Slim, Little Smokey Smothers, Jim Liban and the Futuramics, Billy Boy Arnold, The Legendary Blues Band, Mississippi Heat, Kim Wilson, Barrelhouse Chuck, The Cash Box Kings, Mark Hummel, and so many other greats.

Joining Billy on this extraordinary Delmark release are keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, bassist E.G. McDaniel, drummer Andrew “Blaze” Thomas, trumpet player Doug Corcoran and sax man Christopher Neal.  Dietra Farr adds her vocals to the first trakc and “Hold On” and Dave Katzman plays rhythm guitar on “The Lucky Kind.”  There are 16 originals, all written by Billy, and one cover that comprise this album’s contents.

The CD opens with the rocking rockabilly styled “Good Navigator.” Billy begins the vocals and then shares them in a duet with Deitra Farr.  The two trade off and then go into a call and response before a nice, long guitar solo by Flynn.  They both return to vocal trade licks in this danceable and jumping cut– a nice start!  Things slow down in “If It Wasn’t for the Blues” with Billy doing a mid-tempo blues for us with a forthright guitar line than he spars with vocal.  Purifoy comes in with a nice piano solo and Billy also gives another lengthy and cool guitar solo.  Well done.  In “Small Town,” slide guitar and Billy’s vocals start things off.  Billy then gives us a pair of solos on harp and then guitar.  He comes back on vocals and guitar to complete a slick and sultry piece.  “Lonesome Highway” is slow blues done right.  Guitar, organ and horns  team up in support of Flynn’s vocals to produce authentic slow Chicago blues done right.  The guitar stings in the solo and throughout.  The organ builds in its support and helps take things home.   Flynn then delivers the lone cover in superb fashion.  He takes the 1964 Billy Page tune “The “In” Crowd” (originally sung by Dobie Gray” in a Motown like R&B cut  and then turned into a jazzy instrumental by the Ramsay Lewis Trio in the same year) and makes it a slightly more up-tempo jazzy blues instrumental with the guitar in front and the organ right there behind it.  Flynn shows versatility and talent in this swinging version of the song.

“Never Had a Chance” has a funkiness to it that Flynn sells well.  The horns and organ help out and then Billy lays into a sweet guitar solo.  Billy sings and plays with a cool restraint.    Things start jumping with “Waiting Game,” the next cut.  Flynn plays harp and guitar and Purifoy fills nicely on piano.  “Hold On” offers some more clean harp with Farr and Flynn again in a mid-tempoed duet.  Flynn soloson guitar and then gives us some more harp to savor.  Dietra and Billy take us home together.  “The Lucky Kind” reminds me of an Otis Rush sort of cut with a breathy Flynn on vocals and that stinging style of guitar. Corcoran offers up a big trumpet solo that was killer and Billy goes out on his guitar in beautiful fashion.  “Jackson Street” is a slower blues about a girl who live over on Jackson Street, another cool throwback of a song steeped in the Chicago blues tradition.  Piano, harp and guitar play off each other and then harp and guitar take the front seat and are featured before Flynn finishes with one more nice chorus.  “Long Long Time” is a jumping blues that swings. The Mad Hatter Purifoy gives his all on a nice piano solo and in his overall support.  Flynn’s solo work remains stellar and showcases more sides of Billy’s talents.  “The Right Track” is a little more of the same, with piano and guitar solos with a strident and forthright bluesy approach.

The high paced “You Are My Lover” follows.  Things jump with Flynn’s harp opening things up.  Flynn’s guitar stings and rings in another swinging track.  “I Feel ‘Um” opens with an ethereal organ intro and then some jazzy sax in an R&B number with Flynn on vocal and guitar again showing diversity.  The sax solo and fills with sax and organ help make this one more funky and special.  “Blue Express” is a nifty instrumental with the horns blazing and the boys shouting ,“Hey,” in rhythm with the beat.  “Sufferin’ With the Blues” takes the tempo down with a soulful guitar and slow blues sung by Flynn.  The rousing “Christmas Blues” concludes things, offering us the B.B. King side of Billy Flynn.  His guitar rings in the style of Lucille herself as Billy Flynn offers up some traditional blues for the Yuletide season.  Organ and sax appear in support and Neal’s tenor sax solo is excellent and later Billy launches into his final solos on the CD for us to relish on the guitar.

Billy has ten albums of his own under his belt, including the great double CD Blues Drive. One of his 10 prior CDs is not blues, it’s an all-instrumental surf music album entitled Big Guitar.  He appeared with Beyonce Knowles on the Grammy winning recording of “At Last” from the film Cadillac Records.  Billy did all the guitar work for the film– Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Etta James, and The Beach Boys; his style is all styles and all are perfect.  His blues guitar and mandolin work has appeared on dozens of albums in addition to his own.

So when you are one of the most truly accomplished and fantastic blues guitar players in the entire world who has over 40 years experience under your belt, what do you do for an encore?  Well, in this case you finally release an album of your own on a big blues label!  Not that his prior releases were bad; in fact, they are outstanding!  It just seems odd to me that while Billy has tons of great music to his credit and has appeared on a plethora of other artist’s major label recordings that he did not have one of his own.  Now he does.

He is truly a renaissance blues man and it is about time he has a major release on a major label. In his resume  This is a CD that belongs in all blues fans’ collections.  Billy is one of the best at his craft and this album showcases that for us.  Get this one now!

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