8th Train Records/Blind Raccoon Records
12 songs – 54 minutes
Georgie Bonds’ back-story reads like something put together by a Hollywood scriptwriter. Born and raised in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, he has been incarcerated; spent 15 years working as a blacksmith; nearly died from a medication error that caused significant internal damage; and he has discovered a late-flowering gift for singing the blues. As part of the house band at Warmdaddy’s, a blues club in Philadelphia, Bonds has shared the stage and played with the likes of Hubert Sumlin, Koko Taylor, Larry Garner, Bill Branch and The Kinsey Report. And, in 2013, he won an acting/singing role in the Broadway success, “It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues”, which was nominated for four Tony Awards.
Stepping Into Time is Bonds’ second album, following 2000’s independently-released Sometimes I Wonder, and features 10 original songs written by Bonds or one of his band-mates, together with two classic but superbly done covers.
The album opens with one of the covers, a short, a capella version of the traditional “St James Infirmary”, where Bonds’ voice beautifully captures the poignant edge behind the lyrics. It is a bold way to open an album, but it works superbly, especially when followed by the modern country blues of “The Blacksmith”. Bonds’ powerful, soulful voice is given free rein to express the protagonist’s lust as he sings “The tongs are in my left hand, my fire’s good and hot. Pump a little on the bellows, my hammer will find the spot. They call me the Blacksmith, and that’s what I am. I got the fire deep inside me and my hammer in my hand.”
Bonds is backed by a top quality band, featuring Neil Taylor and Harry Jacobson on guitars, Andy Haley and Russ Joel on drums, Kenny Githens and James White on bass, Walter Runge on organ, Joe Stout on piano and Buddy Cleveland harmonica. Dave Renz also adds tenor saxophone to the upbeat shuffle of “What More?” Each of the musicians adds spice to the music without ever getting in the way of the song. Runge’s organ, in particular, adds some lovely touches, such as in “Dyin’ Is The Easy Way”. Neil Taylor, in addition to contributing to the writing of several songs, adds haunting, hanging single notes to the verses of Githens’ “Hurricane Blues” and some stellar slide guitar to the funky blues of “Lord, Oh Lord”, which also features some lovely honky tonk piano Stout.
The slow, minor key “Daily News” captures the concerns and worries of so many at the current state of society. There is a palpable anger to Bonds’ voice as he wails: “A mother kills her children, a husband kills his wife. Brother killing brother, cut down in the prime of life. People keep on asking, what’s giving me the blues? Read all about it, just pick up the daily news.”
The second cover on the album is John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples”. Bonds’ version does not have the sly undercurrent of the original, but instead acts as an irresistibly muscular celebration of love and the sexual act. Then, just as the listener expects the album to end, a child’s voice plaintively says “OK, Dorothy. That’s it. Time to go home. Oh, wait. There’s more.” The secret song starts with beautiful finger-picked acoustic guitar. A slide is added, then Bonds’ voice comes in just before the harmonica. It’s an acoustic reworking of “The Blacksmith” and is a wonderful way to end a thoroughly enjoyable album.
Stepping Into Time is a very enjoyable slab of modern blues. Great songs, fine playing, crystalline yet warm production (kudos to Neil Taylor) and superb singing. What’s not to like?