11 songs – 47 minutes
Charles Wilson has been something of a fixture on the Chicago soul scene since the 1970s, although he didn’t cut his first full album until 1990’s Blues In The Key Of C. Over the years, he has moved closer to the blues, in particular on his 2005 Delmark release, If Heartaches Were Nickels, which garnered a W.C. Handy nomination for Best Soul/Blues Album.
His new album, Sweet & Sour Blues, continues to mine that rich seam of music that is equal parts soul and blues, and with great success. The album contains 11 original songs packed into just over three-quarters of an hour, and there isn’t a duff track on there.
Wilson has a rich, vibrant, emotionally-charged voice, capable of expressing love, lust and longing. It’s very much a classic soul-blues voice, particularly suiting to the pleading, desperate “Love Coupons”. He also benefits from being backed by the mighty Travis Haddix and his band, who provide stellar yet understated support.
Haddix is in something of a frenzy of activity at the moment. His last studio album, Love Coupon, was favorably reviewed in the 14 September 2015 issue of Bluesblast Magazine, quickly followed by the excellent career retrospective It’s My Turn Now – The Best Of (reviewed in the 22 October 2015 issue of Bluesblast). And now he and his band play on the 11 songs of Sweet & Sour – all of which were also written by Haddix. As usual, the rhythm section of Ed Lemmers and Jeremy Sullivan nail a variety of grooves with authority, while Haddix’s solos and fills offer a master class in modern day B.B. King-influenced electric blues guitar. His first solo on “2 Steps From A Lie” is outrageously good.
The songs, as one might expect from Haddix, are well-constructed with clever lyrics. On the slow shuffle of “Old Fashioned Justice”, Wilson sings: “You want a man who won’t make you sob, and do anything you say. The man you got, he got you working two jobs, and bringing him all your pay. That’s old-fashioned justice – the craziest thing I ever heard. You didn’t get the man that you wanted – you got the one you deserve.”
But despite Haddix’s heavy involvement in Sweet & Sour (he also produced the release), there is no doubt that it is Wilson’s album. Wilson stamps his own personality and style on every song and his voice is really a wondrous thing. On the slow blues of “Dinner With The Devil”, he expertly treads the delicate balance between the explicit humor of the lyrics and sub-text of the pain and rejection felt by the protagonist – “They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and I know you disagree. Lean cuisine is not a part of your scene. That’s why you never cook for me. I never say that I’m hungry when I’m out in the street. It’s like having dinner with the devil every time we sit down to eat. I don’t care – anything you do is alright. But I keep some money in my pocket so I can eat out every night.”
Sweet & Sour is a very impressive, highly enjoyable album of traditional blues-soul. If you like the music of masters such as James Carr, Johnny Adams and Little Milton (Wilson’s uncle), you will want to hear this album.