Tito Jackson – Under Your Spell
Gulf Coast Records/Hillside Global GCRX9033
11 songs – 41 minutes
After striking gold and platinum with the Jackson 5, Tito Jackson makes his debut as a bluesman at age 67 with this star-laden disc. And for him, believe it or not, it’s a long-awaited return to his first love, the music that colored his world as a child.
Despite dozens of top-selling family albums from the ‘60s onward, this is just his second solo CD following Tito Time, a well-received 2016 R&B release. He’s been primarily working behind the scenes in the industry since he and his brothers went their separate ways in the late ‘80s, serving as a session guitarist, producer and devoting his energy to raising and managing his own musical brood, a trio of sons who hit soul gold in the 2010s as the group 3T.
The Jacksons’ parents, Joe and Katherine, were major blues lovers, too, and played it regularly at home. And Joe fronted his own blues band as a guitarist in Gary, Ind., in the early ‘50s before concentrating on his work in a steel mill before the family’s musical success. In the early years, the Jackson 5 regularly worked blues songs into their act, and Tito has considered himself to a blues artist for the better part of the past 30 years despite his other ventures.
One listen to this CD – which features guest appearances from Kenny Neal, Grady Champion, Joe Bonamassa, George Benson, Eddie Levert, Bobby Rush, Stevie Wonder, Steven Powell, members of the B.B. King Blues Band and B.B.’s daughter Claudette, too – and you’ll understand that he’s a man of his word.
Produced in partnership with Michael K. Jackson, the vocalist who worked as Kurt Jackson in the ‘90s R&B group, Portrait, this disc has the same slick production values folks know and love from the family brand, but the songs it contains are all unhurried, deep-in-the-pocket soul-blues that incorporate stylings of Chicago, Memphis and Mississippi into a seamless package.
Tito shines as both a vocalist and guitarist on this collection, which includes nine originals, a sensationally recrafted cover of one of B.B.’s biggest hits a new tune from Philly Sound founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff – possibly their first true blues song ever – and another from Kelvin “KT” Thomas and Rodney “Rocc” Thomas.
The lineup also includes Brandon Adams and Darrell Lavigne (keys), André Britten, Nathan Weber, Wilbert Crosby, Michael Lee and Tyree Neal (guitars), Terrell Griffin, Malcom Turner, Russell B. Jackson and Darnell Neal (bass), Michael Harris and Brandon Jackson (percussion), Jason Parfait, Ian Smith, James “Boogaloo” Bolden, Eric Demmer and Lamar Boulet (horns) and Swoop Brown, Shandra Dixon, Stephen “Ice Buck” Powell and Larry Bolden (backing vocals).
The medium-paced shuffle, “Wheels Keep Turning,” opens the action with horn flourish and serves as Tito’s announcement that he’s come a long way to hook up with “someone like you” – and the blues, too, which he accents through a mid-tune six-string solo. A funky, easy-greasy groove drives home the need for peace and understanding in “Love One Another,” which was released early as a single with Wonder laying down a rock-steady harp run throughout as Tito, Kenny, brother Marlon and Bobby Rush take turns at the vocals.
The love song “I Like It” is up next with Tito telling a lady he likes that he needs “a little taste to get through” because he’s “way past overdue” – a message that continues in “Under Your Spell,” a funky blues that opens with a Bonamassa solo and is built to support a single, repeated vocal hook before yielding to “Dyin Over Here,” a classic soul-blues with romantic overtones that’s perfect for grinding on the dance floor.
The theme continues in the deep blues “Big Leg Woman,” which is aided by Parfait on sax as Jackson describes his desire for a lady who escaped his attention because of a hangover. Then the pace quickens a bit with “You’re Gonna Push Me too Far,” about a troublesome companion who ruins a vacation by complaining and flirting with another man.
“That Kind of Love” serves up a little Southern soul with Champion on harp before Tito joins forces with the King band, Benson and Lee to deliver a refreshing, jazzy arrangement of “Rock Me Baby” – on which Claudette steals the show with her vocals. Two more tunes – Gamble and Huff’s “All in the Family Blues,” a duet with Levert about working together in a family to overcome obstacles and succeed, and the aurally different “I Got Caught (Loving in a Dream),” which pays tribute to Johnnie Taylor and Muddy Waters as it describes the singer’s lady awaking from a reverie in which she saw him in the arms of another woman – bring the disk to a close.
Tito’s greatest desire is to bring his R&B/soul audience back to the blues, and Under Your Spell is a good bet to do it. Strongly recommended.