Bob Wolfman – Tribute To A Friend | Album Review

Bob Wolfman – Tribute To A Friend

Self-Release – 2021

11 tracks; 41 minutes

Bob Wolfman is a guitar player and music educator who has played around the Boston area for many years. When he was 15 he had a chance encounter with Jimi Hendrix that changed his life. After Jimi’s untimely death, Bob swore that he would one day record a tribute to a man who was a major influence on his guitar playing, as well as a friend. Fast forward to 2020 and Bob finally achieved that goal, working with a fellow Hendrix devotee, Jon Butcher, who played second guitar, some bass and provided backing vocals, as well as producing the album. With keyboard player Bruce Mattson, drummer Barry Lit and a series of bass players (Mark Egan, Ronnie Belben, Wolf Ginandes), Bob played guitar and handled the vocals on eight Hendrix tunes, one that Hendrix covered and two originals, both of which fit well with the Hendrix-inspired material. Sonny Landreth sits in on the two originals.

Bob selected tunes from the Hendrix canon which are perhaps less frequently heard, and that is also a plus for the album; after all, do we really need yet another cover of “Voodoo Child” or “Little Wing”? Bob’s vocals are very clear and, in fact, make you realise what an interesting lyricist Hendrix was. All the Hendrix covers remain close to the originals and none run to excessive length, the twin guitars allowing Bob and Jon to reproduce what on Hendrix’s original albums was courtesy of a lot of multi-tracking. Opener “Gypsy Woman” races out of the traps with the guitars in heavy conversation, driven by the drums. According to Bob, “Freedom” has movements, like a classical composition, and when you hear Bob’s version it makes you wonder why the song is not covered more frequently; the coda is terrific. “Freedom” is followed by “Castles Made Of Sand”, the quiet guitar opening and fascinating lyrics making a good contrast. Another great Hendrix rocker, “Dolly Dagger”, follows, again making you reflect on why that one does not appear more frequently in the Hendrix covers; the thick guitar chords and swirling keys at the heart of the original are well reproduced. The spaced-out lyrics of “Spanish Castle Magic” take you right back to the late 60’s when things were often described as “groovy” before the relatively obscure rocker “You Got Me Floating”. “Angel” was the centrepiece of Hendrix’s The Cry Of Love album, issued posthumously just after his death, a beautiful ballad that used to be covered (by Rod Stewart, for instance) but is no longer often heard; Bob does a very good version of the song.

“Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)” is a 1942 song by Fleecie Moore and Sam Theard which Hendrix knew from Earl King’s version; he often played it live and a version also appears on Electric Ladyland. The two originals both fit in with the Hendrix-themed album: “Parachute” is an instrumental dedicated to Bob’s late nephew Jeffrey, the title could be interpreted as wishing safe landings to Jeffrey but also tips a hat towards Hendrix’s service in the 101st Airborne; “Moon Candy” has the sort of lyrics that Jimi might have written in his prime, full of references to “trips down the rabbit hole” and trying out the exotic-sounding title product. Both tracks involve Sonny Landreth’s spectacular slide playing. Bob returns to Hendrix to end the album, the choice being “One Rainy Wish”.

Opening the envelope for review and seeing a tribute to Hendrix one feared the worst, but that was wrong, as Bob has produced a very sympathetic treatment of some of Hendrix’s less familiar songs. The best tribute albums make you want to go back to the originals and that was in my own mind after listening to Bob’s heartfelt tribute – surely a mark of success for this project.

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