Savoy Brown – Blues All Around
Quarto Valley Records
12 songs – 46 minutes
Savoy Brown was one of the original blues-rock bands to come out of England in the mid-1960s and Blues All Around is, almost unbelievably, their 42nd album. Sadly, it is also likely to be their last, given the death in December 2022 of the band’s leader, singer, guitarist, primary songwriter and sole remaining original member, Kim Simmonds. Recorded when Simmonds’ health was already failing, Blues All Around is a fitting final release, adeptly showcasing the band’s heavy blues-rock approach and Simmonds’ always solid guitar playing.
Simmonds’ illness also informed the recording process itself, with his guitar and vocal tracks (he also contributes organ and harmonica to the album) being laid down first, before long-running bandmates, bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm, added their rhythm parts. In addition, one of the side effects of the chemotherapy that Simmonds received was peripheral neuropathy, which deadened the nerves in his fingers and hands. As result, he played more slide guitar on the album than he might usually do, to compensate for his loss of dexterity.
Simmonds wrote all 12 songs on the album, which is bookended by two versions of “Falling Through The Cracks.” The album opens with a 43 second version that features just Simmonds’ finger-picked electric guitar and the half-whispered words “falling though”, and closes with a five minute ode to loneliness, again with just Simmonds and his guitar. In between, the band lay down a series of mid-paced blues-rock stompers that follow the heavy riff-based formula popularized by the likes of Deep Purple in the late 1960s.
Simmonds is adept at creating slight variations to the classic 12 bar song structure, such as the descending riff replacing the V-iV transition on “Black Heart” or the reverse turnaround on “Hurting Spell”.
Lyrically, the songs follow the traditional paths of betrayed love (“Black Heart” or “Hurting Spell”), desire (“Texas Love” or “My Baby”), travel (“Going Down South”) or past reminiscences (“California Days Gone By”), which Simmonds sings in a likeable, weathered voice. But Savoy Brown albums have never really been about the lyrics or the vocals but more about the groove of the songs and Simmonds’ guitar playing and in that regard Blues All Around ticks all the right boxes – particularly in relation to Simmonds’ slide guitar playing, which is outstanding.
Recorded at Subcat Studios in Syracuse, NY by Ron Keck, there is a liveliness and vitality to Blues All Around that is perhaps surprising, given the circumstances in which it was recorded.
Savoy Brown never achieved superstardom, maybe due to the remarkable number of line-up changes they endured over the years, but they will be warmly remembered by their many fans and Blues All Around is a fine memorial to a superb guitarist and songwriter.