Label: iReed Records
12 songs – 57 minutes
A police siren ominously wails at the beginning of the first song on Don’t Burn The Bridge, before the band kicks in with a funky groove over which hip hop artist Jack Jr. (aka Jason Peskin) gives a sombre spoken word introduction. Merry Clayton’s voice then kicks into gear, begging, pleading for shelter. And what a voice. Despite having recorded with some of the biggest names in popular music, including Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson and Tina Turner, Clayton’s most famous performance is probably her apocalyptic duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” back in 1969. She certainly embraces both the song and its reputation on this album, which is book-ended by two updated versions of it. And both versions more than pass muster. Her voice remains an instrument of distinctive power and soul.
However, while Clayton is given equal billing on the album’s title, she actually lends her voice to only six of the songs. In reality, Don’t Burn The Bridge is iReedMan’s album. iReedMan, aka saxophonist Joel C. Peskin, has a resume that matches Clayton’s – in addition to providing the music to many TV shows and movie soundtracks over the last 40 years, he has also recorded for artists such as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Beach Boys, and Christina Aguillera – and his incendiary playing appears on every song.
And this album contains some very impressive songs, from Clayton’s vocal tour de force on “The Wells Run Dry” to the funky groove of “Backyard Bulldog” to the gloriously upbeat shuffle “Back In The Day”, a song to which it is impossible to listen without tapping one’s feet and clicking one’s fingers. And it is Peskin’s roaring sax that invariably captures the listener’s attention, adding searing, soulful passion to each song. Peskin clearly enjoys letting rip on the sax, but he is equally as impressive when he reins it in and focuses on the melody, for example on “Orange Sky”.
A particular highlight of the album is the swinging “Throw Me Under The Bus”, which packs a powerful melodic punch in the chorus, whilst featuring a spoken word rap from Jack Jr. during the first verse. But there are a lot of highlights across the entire CD. The musical alchemy that enables the successful combination of the modern and the traditional is part of what makes this release so enjoyable. Despite the fact that Clayton and Peskin are both long-time veterans of the music business, there is a very modern feel to what is essentially a classic R&B/soul album with a heavy dash of blues on the side. Jack Jr. provides spoken word raps on “Shelter/Gimme Shelter”, “Don’t Burn The Bridge”, “Throw Me Under The Bus” and “Trash”. Programmed drums, synthesizers, digital sound effects and dance loop programming are all featured in addition to more traditional instrumentation. And the end result is the best of both the modern and traditional.
Added to this is evident chemistry between Peskin and Clayton, who sound like they had an absolute blast in recording this album, and they are given first class support by a wide range of musicians, including John Robinson, Mike Kowlaski and Michael White on drums, Freddie Washington, Andy Simpkins and Chuck Berghoffer on bass, Jason T. Miller, Tim May, John Marx and Ed Carter on guitar, Rich Ruttenberg on piano and Dan Higgins on keyboards and acoustic and electric guitars.
This is a hugely enjoyable album and highly recommended, especially for anyone interested in how modern musical aspects can be successfully combined with and incorporated into more traditional styles.