Carolyn Gaines – The Thrill Is Gone
Polka Dot Records
12 songs – 39 minutes
The daughter of the legendary Texas guitarist/bandleader Roy Gaines, soul-blues vocalist Carolyn Gaines drew considerable international attention in 2018 with the release of her debut album, Beware of My Dog, and is backed here by an all-star band and serving up a disc of 12 of her favorite cover songs as her follow-up.
Born in Houston, but based out of Los Angeles for decades, where her dad worked in support of Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and Bobby “Blue” Bland in addition to fronting his own popular ensemble, Carolyn is an educator who founded the regional Blues Schools Program. She started managing her father’s career in the ‘90s and developed her craft as a vocalist by sitting in with other artists.
Gaines recorded three tunes under the supervision of Buddy Guy guitarist Ric “Ric Jaz” Hall in 2014 and then two more produced by Leon Levy and Chan Romero in 2015 after they discovered her when she performed with Romero at the West Coast Elvis Presley mansion in celebration of The King’s 80th birthday.
A smoky, powerful alto with a distinctive delivery that features “snarls, sneers, growls…all sung with a smile, Carolyn is backed here by the father-son team of uncle Grady Gaines Sr. – of Texas Upsetters fame – and cousin Grady Jr. on saxes, Ric Jaz and Gino Baronelli on guitars, Charles Sherman and Moe Bleek on keys and Glen Doll on harmonica with Dale Atkins and Paul Kennedy sitting in on upright bass on five of the 12 cuts.
The disc was rushed into production after being captured at Leon Hayward’s Sunnyside Studio in L.A., which closed a month later, and is a real blues oddity because it was recorded without the presence of a drummer. From the opening strains of Guy’s “Damn Right I Got the Blues,” you know you’re in for something different.
While the musicianship is unswervingly strong throughout, Gaines’ vocals are slightly nasal, and her notes slide and glide together in an approach that’s jazzy, but also quite annoying to this reviewer’s ear because her stylings are something akin to one-trick pony that plows on relentlessly from one cut to the next. And they’re constantly delivered in counterpoint to the musical charts, creating a sound that’s consistently dissonant throughout.
Ma Rainey’s “Deep Moanin’ Blues” are up next and follow suit before Otis Redding’s “I Got Dreams to Remember” offer up a bit of sweetness and respite. The separation from vocals and instrumentation comes through loud and clear in a jazzy take on Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” while Guy’s “Guess What” is a difficult listen.
The balance of the disc includes a run of over-recorded tunes that have seen better days, including Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” and “Red House,” Muddy Waters’ “I Got My Mojo Working,” Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Stormy Monday” — incorrectly attributed to Bland instead of T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” and B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.”
Available through CDBaby, Spotify and other outlets, this one’s a difficult listen at best.