Bobby Gentilo – Gentilo
Blue Heart Records – 2022
10 tracks; 39 minutes
Bobby Gentilo was born in Washington, DC, but has spent much of his life in Mississippi where he was a member of The Cornlickers, the backing band for Big Jack Johnson; since Big Jack’s passing The Cornlickers have been the house band at Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale. Although Gentilo has been on many albums as a sideman, this is his debut under his own name. He wrote all the songs, collaborating on one with Dale Wise and on one with Tony Ryder; he also produced and recorded the album, with engineering help from Logan Kurtek. All three of those collaborators are involved as musicians: Dale plays drums on two tracks, Tony bass on two and Logan provides bari sax and flute (and plays clavinet on one cut). Other musicians include Benjie Porecki on keyboard and Aaron R Lewis on harmonica: Jason Hoffheins is on drums on most tracks, Christy Engel replacing him on one track; Alex Degnan is on bass on one track and Juan Guillermo Aguilar adds percussion to one track. Bobby himself handles the vocals, all guitar work, bass on most tracks and occasional drums, percussion and Moog.
Given Bobby’s history, opener “Disease” is a little surprising, a catchy little number, almost a pop tune with a breezy rhythm and country-inflected guitar work. “Peace Train” has a naggingly insistent guitar riff which is more in the traditions of Mississippi Hill Country music but “Tell Me” is a gentle ballad, pleasant and well sung, but well away from the blues. “Troublin’” adds harp to the mix, a classic tale of jealousy in which Bobby is concerned about what his girl is up to when she is away from him, sung over a fast-paced tune.
“Ghost” is the first of two instrumentals and is definitely in the Hill Country style with steady drums and a hypnotic guitar riff, the whole aided by keyboards from Benjie. The tune does not really get anywhere but percolates along well before giving way to “The Greatest” which sounds like an out-take from a 70’s soul session with its choral vocals (all Bobby, by the way), synthesiser stabs and gentle guitar work. “The Real You” is more of a blues with plenty of keyboard effects and some effective bari sax, plus a nicely poised guitar solo mid-tune. “Treat Me So Mean” is a sparse tune with Bobby’s guitar backed only by keyboards, the track that comes closest to a straight blues here. The album closes with a pair of tunes that show their Mississippi DNA: “Tire Fire” is a grungy instrumental featuring Bobby’s guitar and Tony Ryder’s bass, both previous members of The Cornlickers, a track that will appeal to those who are fans of that band’s style; “Higher” is the shortest track on the album, but employs three drummers behind Bobby’s ringing chords and repetitive vocal refrain, very much in Hill Country mode.
There are certainly elements of Mississippi Hill Country here, but Bobby shows us that he is not restricted to that style.