“Chicago” Carl Snyder – The Blue Keys | Album review

chicagocarlsnydercd“Chicago” Carl Snyder – The Blue Keys


Lost World Music

13 songs – 64 minutes

“Chicago” Carl Snyder is one of those under-heralded artists whose work has somehow flown under the radar of the popular recognition, despite having performed for over 50 years with the likes of Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Son Seals and Jimmy Johnson. He has played on two WC Handy award-winning albums and two more that were nominated for Grammies. He also appeared in the film, “Blues Highway,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. Since moving to Pennsylvania in 1996, he has continued to play blues, jazz and cocktail music in a variety of settings, while launching and operating his own record label, Lost World Music, and hosting radio shows on college and public stations.

The Blue Keys is a collection of tracks from the Lost World blues catalogue, with a particular focus on Snyder’s keyboard work. The risk with any type of compilation album, of course, is in maintaining a consistency of performance and production quality, particular when the link between the various tracks is purported to be one of the supporting musicians. Thankfully, however, there is sufficient musical and thematic consistency across the broad range of modern blues styles represented on the album to negate this potential issue.

The musicians represented on the album are all deserving of wider recognition. Of the 13 tracks on the album, there are two each by Jimmy Lawrence, Slim, Big Frank and the Healers, and The Christopher Dean Band and one each by Dan Noland, Al Guerrerro, Jean Avery, Sonny Corso and the Pelicans, and Billy Sharp.

There are also some wonderful highlights on The Blue Keys. Christopher Dean’s Albert-via-BB guitar on “I Made Nights By Myself is almost worth the price of admission by itself. Jean Avery’s jaunty take on the Willie Dixon classic “29 Ways” swings with wild abandon. The funky blues-rock of Sonny Corso’s “Naked Ladies” has a stunning piano solo from Snyder as well as great sax from Brian Ripp. The closing track, Big Frank and the Healers’ “Sparky’s Stomp”, is a country-ish instrumental with a delightful 60’s-sounding organ solo from Snyder.

Indeed, Snyder’s keyboard work is impressive throughout, from the bouncing piano solo on “I Made Nights By Myself” to Otis Spann-esque fills on “Same Thing” and subtle organ on Dan Noland’s take on “Birdnest On The Ground”, which comes across as something the Velvet Bulldozer might have recorded. Obviously, the tracks have been deliberately selected to include a lot of Snyder solos, and he does not disappoint. In particular, he is a master of leaving unexpected spaces between notes on his solos, making a persuasive case for the argument that it isn’t what you play that counts, it’s what you don’t play.

Overall, The Blue Keys is a highly enjoyable album. It is perhaps questionable whether it can be genuinely seen as a “Chicago” Carl Snyder album. A more accurate description might be a Lost World blues sampler album. But do not let that put you off. The quality of the performances is first-rate, with a nice mix of classic covers and originals, and some great solos from the musicians. Give it a listen – you may find a new artist of whom you were previously unaware.

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