Clarence Spady – Surrender | Album Review

Clarence Spady – Surrender

NOLA Blue Records – 2021

9 tracks; 48 minutes

A long-term regular on the New York blues scene, Clarence Spady has not been a prolific recording artist, this being just his third release. His debut Nature Of The Beast earned him a WC Handy Award nomination for Best New Artist in 1997 and Just Between Us a nomination for a Blues Music Award for  Soul-Blues Album in 2009. Clarence’s voice, a little like Joe Louis Walker’s, places him in the gospel traditions and his guitar playing and song-writing are also strong suits. On this disc there are six new studio recordings and three previously unreleased live tracks from 1999; six of the tunes are Clarence originals. With Clarence are a number of musicians: on the six new studio recordings Adam Schultz plays guitar on three, Scott Brown (keys) and Jon Ventre (bass) appear throughout, drum duties being shared between Pat Marcinko, Barry Harrison, Sharon O’Connell and Andy Pace; Tom Martin adds harp to two tracks, Tom Hamilton sax to one and long-time keyboardist Bob O’Connell provides a short segue between tracks 1 and 2, having not been well enough at the time of the recordings to participate more fully.

The studio tracks come first, starting with two tracks that are beautiful examples of soul-blues: the autobiographical song “If My Life Was A Book” takes its time and features not only Clarence, but also his protégé on guitar, Adam Schultz; Adam contributes “Good Conversation” on which he plays lead against Clarence’s rhythm guitar on a very attractive tune with rumbling bass, dancing piano and elegant sax. Lucky Peterson’s “When My Blood Runs Cold” has been a fixture in Clarence’s live sets for some years and this studio version has stirring lead guitar work as Clarence wrings all the emotion he can from his Strat, well supported by the keyboards. Clarence has clearly experienced some dark times and reflects on those in the confessional lyrics of the slow blues title track and “K-Man”, a tribute to his late son Khalique, the upbeat shuffle belying the emotional lyrics about loss and grief. The familiar “Down Home Blues” (George Jackson) is given a complete makeover, some informal studio chatter preceding a country blues version, complete with acoustic rhythm guitar and harmonica, that works surprisingly well.

The three live tracks were recorded at the River Street Jazz Cafe, Plains, PA and feature saxophonist Tom Hamilton, Mark Hamza on keys and bass pedals and either Anthony Wilson or the late Shorty Parham on drums, alongside Clarence. “Addiction Game” lays bare personal problems as Clarence digs deep on guitar. “Jones Falls Expressway” is the name of a high-speed way round Baltimore and the scene of a near miss when the band was en route to a gig: this is a fiery ten minute instrumental, giving ample space for sax, keys and guitar to solo impressively and, perhaps, to wonder at how close to death they were on that stretch of highway. “Pick Me Up” closes proceedings on a quieter, melodic note, as Clarence seeks forgiveness for having “messed up”.

This disc is long overdue and is a worthy nomination for Contemporary Blues album in this year’s Blues Blast Music Awards. Now that Clarence seems to have his life back in order perhaps we will hear more regularly from this fine bluesman.

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