Ace Sleeve Records – 2016
10 tracks: 41 minutes
George Stephen Kelly is based in Detroit and this album is a horn-driven delight with plenty of fine playing and some idiosyncratic original songs alongside two solid covers. George wrote the songs, handles all lead vocals and plays guitar throughout with a large cast of Detroit sidemen including the return to recording of Motor City Josh (Ford) who engineered the sessions and plays some guitar. Michael Jenkins also plays guitar, bass duties are split between Alex Lyon and Ryland Kelly (who also contributes piano and guitar to one track), drums between Antonio Johnson and Todd Glass, keys between Kevin Tubbs and Chris Codish. The horns appear on seven tracks with De’Sean Jones and Marcus Elliot on sax and John Douglas on trumpet. Caleb Ford (Josh’s brother) adds backing vocals to one track.
Opener “My Love’s Enough” has an insistent horn refrain and lyrics that link phrases in a style that to these ears seems to have been influenced by rap. However, that is purely in the way that George links words to fit the music which is definitely soulful with a fine trumpet solo from John. “Morning After Pill” is a bouncy shuffle with George’s slide work and an excellent horn chart (containing some Duke Ellington references) providing a solid blues in which George declares himself afraid of the central character who has “a licence to kill, she got it registered legally; she’s got the morning after pill, she likes to live dangerously. She’s mentally ill, please keep the girl away from me.” George shows his gentler side in “My Forever, Your Always” which has a suitably charming horn arrangement to match the romantic sentiments.
It is not often that you find a title in the blues that takes from the ancient legends of antiquity but George’s “Sisyphus Blues” does so most successfully. Although the horns are absent George more than compensates with some of the very best guitar playing on the album, not one but two outstanding solos here as lyrically he recreates the Sisyphus legend in a contemporary context: “I rolled a stone to the top of the hill, it rolled back down again. Exercise in futility – that’s how my days are spent”. A strong sense of humour shows through in the lyrics of the self-explanatory “Too Much Month At The End Of The Money” which has a funky rhythm punctuated by the horns, George leaving the guitar duties to Josh on this one.
The first cover is “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You”, best known from Wilson Pickett’s version. While the ‘Wicked Pickett’ had a unique soul voice George has a good enough voice to deliver the song very well in a really swinging arrangement and also delivers a stinging guitar solo – another outstanding track. The horns sit out the tale of “Bad Whiskey”, a slow blues about the evils of the ‘demon drink’. “Nice Ride” features Michael’s wah-wah embellishments and gut-wrenching solo on an interesting song that takes us through a series of key events in life, each featuring a different type of car, giving the title a double meaning as George takes us on a journey from prom to marriage to funeral cortège!
The second cover is a swinging arrangement of Boz Scagg’s “Runnin’ Blue” which has Keith Kaminski’s sax and Jimmy Smith’s trumpet boosting the horn section to four players. The final track “Just Because You’re Paranoid” is another example of George’s ability to write a song that combines unusual lyrics with strong melody as a delicate arrangement underpins the song.
This is an impressive set of sometimes unusual songs that will appeal to those who enjoy the soulful end of the blues. This reviewer certainly enjoyed listening to the disc and can recommend it to others.