The Lizzard Kings featuring Charles Ponder – Jim Crow’s Shadow
11 songs – 37 minutes
The Lizzard Kings have been playing around Memphis since the mid-1990s, with the occasional break for a few years. The band has long been based around guitarist and primary songwriter Wally B Ford (all the songs on Jim Crow’s Shadow were written by Ford and Eddie Dattel), although the latest version of the band assembled around 2017 with the addition of Charles Ponder as front man.
Kicking off with the classic blues-rock groove of “Love Shuffle”, Ponder’s sultry voice fits in perfectly as Adam Levin’s organ floats nicely between the vocal lines. It is immediately apparent that these boys know what they’re doing. The Lizzard Kings comprise Ponder on lead vocals, Ford and Steve Seligman on guitar, Tim Goolsby on bass and Dwayne Caudill on drums and percussion. They are joined by a variety of guests on different tracks, including Brad Webb on slide guitar, Levin on piano and organ, Taylor Orr and Jesse Branstetter on guitar, Eric Hughes on harmonica, Carl Woolfe on alto and soprano sax and Daphne Greenleaf and Melissa Van Pelt Johnson on backing vocals. This ensures a diversity of colours can be added to each song. Webb’s slide guitar and Johnson’s haunting backing vocals contribute an earthiness and life to the title track, while Wolfe’s alto sax on “Curve Appeal” emphasizes the bounce in the music and the humor in the lyrics.
Jesse Branstetter’s lyrical, melodic guitar impressively dominates “So Gone, So Long”, while the swinging “Pennsylvania Avenue Blues” benefits from more saxophone from Wolfe and a short but punchy guitar solo from Seligman. Porter’s vocal on the slower “It’s Over Now” is superb, ably supported by a weeping guitar solo from Orr and gospel-style backing vocals from Greenleaf.
Jim Crow’s Shadow is a relatively short album, clocking in at just over half an hour, but it’s a splendid collection of well-written blues-rock songs. The use of five different lead guitarists works really well, with each player bringing something different to the table, offering a broad array of guitar tones and styles, but the song is never sacrificed for the solo. Having said that, Webb’s slide playing on the grind of “Highway Blues” is probably worth the price of admission by itself.
Lyrically, the songs on Jim Crow’s Shadow range from clever twists on traditional themes of love and desire in “Love Shuffle” and “Curve Appeal” to adroit social and political commentary on tracks like “Big Money”, “Black & Blue”, “Pennsylvania Avenue Blues”, the title track and the acoustic “Red, White, Blue & Green” (with nifty harmonica from Hughes).
In addition to writing all the songs, Ford and Dattel also produced the album, with excellent engineering from Kevin Houston at Inside Sounds in Memphis and mastering by Jeffrey Reed at Taproot Studio in Oxford, MS. Jim Crow’s Shadow is top class guitar-driven blues-rock, leaning closer to the blues than to rock. Very impressive stuff.