It’s very tempting to review “Damage Control,” (Alligator Records) the latest album from Curtis Salgado, by saying simply: It’s great! Get it now!
That would certainly be accurate. But it wouldn’t be quite fair not to talk about all the parts that make it great.
The first and main part is Salgado himself. He sings with great soul and passion, his harp swoops and soars, he writes, he produces — and the result is carefully crafted music that sounds spontaneous, original and fresh.
Salgado, at 67, has created what he calls “a rock ’n’ roll record with lyrics that hit.” That’s true enough, but it’s a lot more than rock ‘n’ roll (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). There’s imaginative and personal storytelling and sparkling musicianship from three groups of crackling backups recorded in three different studios. And it’s also kind of neat that someone still calls it a record.
He’s created (with a little help from some very musical friends) 12 songs for the album, which sound very much like they are reflections of his own life.
And that sentiment is soulfully stated in the opening track (my favorite), “The Longer That I Live — (The Older I Wanna Get”), with spunky musical support that includes Kid Andersen on guitar, Mike Finnigan, organ, and Jim Pugh, piano. It’s a joyous anthem to “keep on keepin’ on.” And that’s quickly followed by “What Did Me in Did Me Well,” an ode to learning life’s lessons and coming out the wiser, laced with Salgado’s subtle harp.
Speaking of favorites, Salgado said in an interview with Forbes that his favorite song, and the first song he wrote for the album, is “You’re Going To Miss My Sorry Ass,” a heartfelt little story told after he watched two people argue on a blues cruise, “and the wife walked away, and the husband turned around and said, ‘Oh, yeah, when I’m dead and gone, you’re going to miss my sorry ass!'” Life is just full of songs waiting to be written.
There are other moods as well: “The Fix Is In” is what might be called a cynical look at human nature, or a realistic one, depending on your point of view.
The title track is a more somber look at life, and how to deal with its slings and arrows, of which he says, “Life is all about damage control … trouble and then some. It’s about dealing with what gets thrown at you and saying, ‘I ain’t finished yet.’”
But there’s some whimsical fun in “Hail Mighty Caesar,” a historical romp with Julius and Cleopatra and, of course, Mark Antony. And there’s a zydeco party with Wayne Toups on squeezebox and sharing the vocals on “Truth Be Told.” Plus a rollicking cover of Larry Williams’ frenetic 1957 rocker “Slow Down.” I haven’t listed every song here, but each one in a minor gem of musical craftsmanship, with its own story to tell. There’s not a wasted word or note on the album — I mean record!
During his career, a lot has been thrown at him requiring much damage control, including multiple health challenges, battling back from liver cancer in 2006 and lung cancer in 2008 and 2012. In March 2017 he underwent quadruple bypass surgery.
But, as Salgado said in that Forbes interview, “Music has kept me alive. It’s protected me, it’s my life. It’s a connection and music is the most positive thing that we do as a species on this planet.”
This is Salgado’s fourth Alligator album, and the relationship seems to be working. There was “Soul Shot” in 2012, “The Beautiful Lowdown” in 2016 and “Rough Cut” (an acoustic album with guitarist Alan Hager) in 2018. These albums earned Salgado multiple Blues Music awards.
“Damage Control” is the best yet — a polished, playful and personal musical journey that sparkles with great music, and creative lyrical storytelling that ranges from serious to silly (in the best sense of the word). Salgado has always possessed gritty, soulful pipes, and they serve him well here. If anything, he sounds more soulful than ever. And the musicians – it almost reads like a cast of thousands – bring out the best in his vocals no matter whether it’s playful or profound.
Here are some videos (and audio). I’ve added a couple of others, just for fun.
Th official video of “The Longer That I Live”
I thought this was a very playful little ditty, with great music behind it:
Which somehow reminded me of this:
Or maybe this:
“Damage Control” tracks: The Longer That I Live / What Did Me In Did Me Well / You’re Going To Miss My Sorry Ass / Precious Time / Count Of Three / Always Say I Love You (At The End Of Your Goodbyes) / Hail Mighty Caesar / I Don’t Do That No More / Oh For The Cry Eye / Damage Control / Truth Be Told / The Fix Is In / Slow Down