30 songs – 133 minutes
Some retrospective collections can leave the listener wondering how on earth the artists in question managed a career in music at all, let alone that such careers lasted long enough to warrant the release of “high points” of such a career. Other collections, however, serve to emphasize just how talented some people are and how much good music they have produced over time. Tommy McCoy’s new release, 25 Year Retrospective, is very much in the latter camp. Two CDs, both packed full of well-written, superbly played blues and blues-influenced songs, each with enough subtle twists to keep one entertained on repeated listening – what’s not to like?
Florida-based McCoy may not have achieved the international renown of other roots musicians, but the appearance of the likes of Lucky Peterson, Tommy Shannon, Chris Layton, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Commander Cody and Tony Coleman on 25 Year Retrospective underscores the respect in which he is held by his peers.
27 songs come from McCoy’s previous albums, dating back to 1992. There are also three new original tracks recorded in 2015. The powerful solo acoustic of “Sugar Cane,” recorded at Gary Vincent’s studio in Clarksdale, Mississippi, superbly captures the oppressive heat and humidity of the region, whilst the uptown 50’s-style R&B of “I Got A Reason” has as many pop ingredients as it does soul and blues – great sax backing and a lovely melodic guitar solo. They are both fine tracks. McCoy chose perhaps the most emotionally-charged of the three songs, however, to open the album. “The King Is Gone,” a moving tribute to B.B. King, opens with MCoy channelling King’s guitar style over a minor key structure. Taking King’s own “The Thrill Is Gone” as his starting point, McCoy’s lyrics name-check Lucille and many of B.B.’s songs before he launches into another powerful solo.
High points abound. McCoy’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Money” (from his 1995 CD Love N’ Money) is an absolute belter, played just slightly faster than the original but with significantly more groove. The West Coast blues of “Black Eldorado Red” is an irresistible foot-tapper with a sparkling piano solo from Commander Cody. “They Killed That Man” features just an acoustic guitar and Ed Lanier’s haunting bowed bass. And McCoy’s collaboration with Lucky Peterson on the up-beat “Blues Thing” is a reminder of how joyful a simple shuffle can be.
McCoy is a superb guitarist, peeling one great solo after another. He is also a fine singer with a wry line in lyrics. In “Cars, Bars and Guitars” he sings “I was ridin’ like a wheel. I didn’t know what was the deal. The time was coming up fast. I’d gone through all my cash. I spent it all on cars, bars and guitars.” There are a surprising number of us in the same club.
The consistent quality of both the production and the songs is noticeable throughout the album, which some artists struggle to do over the course of just one CD when the songs are all recorded together. 25 Year Retrospective is a really enjoyable release and is warmly recommended.