Bluesman Buddy Guy’s latest double disc release Rhythm and Blues isn’t really that, but the venerable guitarist/singer wails on blues anyway.
As long as there’s a set of songs that he can sink his voice and fingers into, then Guy will bring electricity. The 77-year-old’s performances on Rhythm and Blues have edge; his vocals are potent and soulful, and his guitar work has an elemental squawk that’s part conversation and part banshee howl — it takes on another life as Guy dims the volume. If anything, age has added more presence to his music – the past is there but it’s a bonus and not a burden.
The songs aren’t very notable in content but their humour and insight give Guy the platform in which to exorcise his considerable interpretive powers (I Go By Feel, Meet Me in Chicago). There are collaborations here, but they’re uneven. Beth Hart matches Guy’s charisma with her raw reading of What You Gonna Do About Me, and Keith Urban and Guy have a sweet duet on One Day Away, one of the few sensitive tracks here. Kid Rock doesn’t sound like an American Badass on Messin’ With the Kid; more like a snot-nosed brat trying to sound heavy. Ah well…there’s Steven Tyler with some Aerosmith buddies on the hyper Evil Twin, sounding like Steven Tyler. But Guy never lets his guard down; he melts the fretboard all over R&B.
A few songs take a left turn away from the format and jump out, leaving an impression that more is needed. These are Devil’s Daughter; Whiskey Ghost, and All That Makes Me Happy is the Blues. The sound of these is swampy and reverb-drenched and the mood is minor-key and eerie. In a weird turnabout, these tracks have a lingering deep feeling of blues, while the traditionally-structured blues songs on the rest of the album sound like party music in contrast. So yeah, more swamp music would be cool…But Guy often rides the edge of abandon when performing, and his boldness sometimes takes him past the outskirts. It’s this restless spirit that keeps him and his sound in their own time zone, so play on!
Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician in Vernon, B.C. and longtime music reviewer for The Morning Star.