Luther Badman Keith – Working Bluesman
14 songs – 63 minutes
Working Bluesman is the fifth CD from Detroit bluesman, Luther Badman Keith, and is a fine, fun-filled collection of funky blues and soul. Featuring 14 tracks written by Keith and producer Josh Ford, the album is an unbeat slab of modern urban blues which is not afraid to pose some interesting questions in Keith’s lyrics.
Keith sings lead vocals and plays lead and rhythm guitar. Ford contributes percussion, rhythm and slide guitar (his slide playing on “Blues Caravan” is particularly noteworthy), electric bass, congas and tambourines. They are ably assisted by Ben Luttermoser on acoustic bass; Alex Lyon on electric bass; Todd Glass on drums, Jim David and Evan Mercer on keyboards, Billy Furman on saxophone and harmonica; and Mark Croft on trumpet. In addition, backing vocals are added by J’Renee Stevenson, Raye Williams, Erin Accomando and Jen Read. Many of these musicians also backed Keith on his last release, Bluesmen Are Kings (warmly reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine in March 2016), and the years spent together are reflected in the top class musical performances throughout the album.
Keith sings in a light tenor that works especially well on tracks like “My Treasure” and plays a welcomingly traditional, muscular guitar. He pays tribute to one of his musical heroes, Luther Allison, on “When Luther Came To Town” and one can hear that influence in Keith’s playing across the album as well as in the incorporation of soul, funk and rock influences into his music. There are also hints of the likes of Son Seals and Magic Slim in the ferocity of his guitar playing, although the presence of horns (and keys on tracks like “One Of Those Things”) provide a smoother sound than Seals or Slim, whilst still being straight-ahead blues.
In addition to his lyrical nod to Allison, Keith’s lyrics address topics such as mass shootings (in “Blame Game”), the joys of his home town (“Rocking N The D”), bizarre declarations of love (“Put Me In The Coffin” sounds like The Stranglers playing blues), and the world’s obsession with Facebook (“Too Much Information”). The playing is uniformly excellent, and Ford has captured a warm, live sound.
Working Bluesman closes with the beautiful instrumental, “Damon’s Justice”, which contains perhaps Keith’s most heartfelt and emotional guitar playing on the album, as well as some stellar piano from Jim David. The track is named after Keith’s uncle (and indeed the entire album is dedicated to him). The Hon. Judge Damon J. Keith was a Circuit Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, a leading civil rights activist and also the judge in United States v. Sinclair (1971), in which he ruled that President Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, had to disclose the transcripts of illegal wiretaps that Mitchell had authorized without first obtaining a search warrant. The case was appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, who held unanimously in favour of Keith’s judgment, thus establishing the precedent that a warrant needed to be obtained before beginning electronic surveillance even if domestic security issues were involved. Judge Keith died in 2019, but Working Bluesman is a heart-warming tribute to a genuinely great man.