Silent Partners – Changing Times
Little Village Foundation LVF 1051
10 songs – 46 minutes
All fans know who the star is when a band takes the stage and the backing band truly are Silent Partners – as this group is named. But give one listen to this album and that should no longer be the case for this trio who’ve been toiling quietly and successfully in the shadows for the better part of a combined 50 years.
It’s truly an all-star aggregation that includes percussionist Tony Coleman, bassist Russell Jackson and guitarist Jonathan Ellison, who’ve spent decades individually in support of B.B. King, Albert King, Bobby Blue Bland, Johnnie Taylor, Otis Clay, Denise LaSalle, Matt “Guitar” Murphy and dozens of other giants.
They join forces for the first time to deliver a searing, skin-tight, straightforward set of contemporary blues sure to have you begging for more. Propelled by one of the best rhythm sections ever to set foot on a blues stage, the infectious beats run deep, and the all-business lead lines are delivered with a no-nonsense attack sure to having you grooving from the first bars.
Produced by Grammy-winner Jim Pugh, who contributes piano and organ, and featuring nine originals and a single cover, Changing Times was recorded, mixed and mastered by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios in California. All three of the Silent Partners contribute vocals with additional backing from Andersen on guitar, Vicki Randle on congas, Don Dally on violin and Lisa Lueschner Andersen on backing vocals.
“Ain’t No Right Way to Do Wrong” cooks from the jump. It’s an unhurried ballad with a strong hook that builds slowly in intensity throughout. Delivered from the point-of-view of a child who was raised by his grandmother, the younger describes himself as being born happy and free, believing that the love and respect he paid everyone was returned in the same way. But the realization that everyone isn’t your friend — which is driven home by accompanying strong guitar chords – soon sets in and serves up the counterpoint: “Ain’t no right way to do wrong, and sure ain’t no wrong way to do right.”
The funk kicks in and the pace gradually quickens for “Post Traumatic Blues Syndrome,” a driving shuffle that updates the previous message as it touches on many of the legitimate fears people of color experience in a world shaded by racism and abuse. The message is driven home by Ellison’s strong fretwork throughout. But the feel shifts dramatically with the bittersweet “Road to Love,” a soaring, two-step ballad in which the singer promises his mistakes of the past will never happen again.
A take on The Crusaders’ “Never Make Your Move too Soon” is up next and takes listeners in an entirely different direction than the original thanks to Coleman, who uses it as a foundation to tell the detailed story of how B.B. recruited both he and Russell for his band after an unplanned birthday jam in Chicago. The uptempo pleaser, “Dancin’ Shoes,” features blazing guitar and rapid-fire bass runs before “Love Affair with the Blues” slows down and smolders.
The rhythm drives the action with intermittent solo six-string runs on “Proving Ground,” which states that you can’t rest on past performances because each night’s a new trial by fire. It gives way to “Teasing Woman,” which describes a lady who lures the singer in then shows herself to be a “teasin’, lyin’ so-and-so” who disappears along with his “last dime.” B.B.’s influence surfaces strongly in the stop-time affirmation, “Good to Myself,” before “Beale Street Shuffle” honors the epicenter of the blues to bring the disc to a close.
Soulful blues from folks who really know what they’re doing – and strongly recommended.