Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon – Grabbing the Blues by the Horns | Album Review

Vince Salerno & Gerald McClendon – Grabbing the Blues by the Horns

Pravda Records PR-6407

10 songs – 40 minutes

A double threat on tenor and alto saxes as well as harmonica, Vince Salerno and his soul-blues vocalist Gerald McClendon partner have been fan favorites for decades in Chicago, and they team together seamlessly here for the horn player’s debut release, a pleasant mix of blues, jazz and R&B covers and one original cut.

A native of Chicagoland, Salerno has been a fixture on the city’s music scene for the better part of 40 years. He picked up the harp at age 16 after catching the Sam Lay Band in performance and turned to the sax four years later, influenced by King Curtis and Jr. Walker.

He cut his teeth with a series of well-respected regional artists, including vocalists Vanessa Davis and Liz Mandeville and guitarist Pocketwatch Paul before graduating to bands fronted by Eddy Clearwater, Luther Allison and Pinetop Perkins. He currently splits his time between work with McClendon’s band and the Rhythm Rockets, a jazz, jump blues and R&B group who’ve been heating up cold Chicago nights since the ‘60s.

Most recently on disc as part of Twist Turner’s stellar Delta Roots release, Battle of the Blues: Chicago vs. Oakland, Gerald “Soulkeeper” McClendon is a Windy City native who’s a familiar face both on Rush Street and in musical theater, delivering a smooth blend of classic soul and blues, jazz and even a little country, too. He’s toured internationally after debuting as a front man with the album Choose Love in 2003, and his voice is featured on an Aerosmith tribute album.

The duo are backed here by longtime McClendon bandmates Thomas Klein on guitar and Paul Coscino on keys as well as the Rhythm Rockets’ rhythm section: bassist Lou Marini and percussionist Mark Fornek. They’re augmented by guest appearances by John Bowes on sax and Jack Cassidy and Ron Haynes on trumpets.

The disc opens with a cover of Earl King’s stop-time classic, “Come On.” McClendon’s warm tenor glides effortlessly slightly behind the beat as Salerno’s sax and Klein’s guitar drive the tune forward. Little Milton’s “Same Old Blues” opens with a strong, single-note run on the six-string and swings from the jump with Salerno’s fat notes on baritone propelling the bottom.

The horns propel a familiar arrangement of Otis Redding’s “Love Man” before Chicago comes to the fore with re-dos of Harold Burrage’s ‘50s hit, “Crying for My Baby,” and harmonica master Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would” with Salerno rock-steady on the reeds. The duo dip into Redding’s catalog once again for “The Happy Song” before a take on Little Walter’s “Up the Line.”

Gerald’s on the sidelines beginning with Milt Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove,” the first of three closing numbers that put Vince’s on display. He’s on horn in a groovy jazz setting for that one as well as tasty take of Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments.” Salerno’s on harp with a light, silky touch for the closer, “The Wobble,” an original blues instrumental.

Available through multiple online dealers, this one’s a treat for anyone who likes their blues served with a heaping helping jazz and soul.

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