Roadhouse album reviews (a little late): Guy Davis, Rob Stone, Gerald McClendon, the Rev. Shawn Amos

Guy Davis – “Be Ready When I Call You” (M.C. Records, June 4)

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It seems like Guy Davis has been around forever, playing music, writing music, telling stories, acting (he’s the son of noted actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis) and teaching. And that short list doesn’t do his many and varied musical and theatrical accomplishments justice.

With his latest album, Davis has combined almost all of his skillset into a set of songs with a lot of serious social commentary, some sly humor, a little emphasis on the devil’s music, plus a fine musicality. They’re all originals, except for his elegant cover of the classic “Spoonful.”

Social commentary is tricky. It can come in gentle, subtle forms or it can smack you in the forehead with its bluntness. Davis finds a powerful compromise on tracks like “God’s Gonna Make Things Over” (the Tulsa race massacre of 1921) and “Flint River Blues” (lead in the drinking water). In what at times feels like a throwback to ’60s folk and protest music, he adds songs about immigration, unemployment, and the Mideast.

And yes, there are a few more traditional songs besides “Spoonful.” A poignant “Got Your Letter in My Pocket” is a good example.

Although he is often a solo performer, Davis plays here with a regular quintet that includes Professor Louie (keyboards), Gary Burke (drums), John Platania (guitar), and Mark Murphy (bass and cello). Helping out are Jeff Haynes (percussion), Christopher James (guitar, banjo, mandolin) and David Bernz, Timothy Hill, and Casey Erdman (background vocals). 

In addition to being a finely crafted musical effort, “Be Ready When I Call You” is a very interesting, reflective album. Davis has chosen to tackle large societal issues

Live performance of the title track, “Be Ready When I call You”:

Rob Stone – “Trio in Tokyo” (Blue Heart Records, May 21)

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Rob Stone is a down-home-style Chicago blues harp player, with some West Coast swing flavor added since he relocated there. But his latest album is a swinging departure, featuring an acoustic trio of his harp and vocals, Elena Kato on piano and Hiroshi Eguchi on bass, on a creative selection of classic blues tunes, recorded in Tokyo.

The project, initially intended for release in Japan only, was inspired by the late Big Jay McNeely, wwith whom Stone had been working at the time..

The album has a relaxed vibe, something you might not expect from a fine blues set, but it works here, thanks to the intimacy of the connection between harp, piano and bass. Stone’s vocals and harp solo highlight tracks like a gently swinging “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” with sparkling piano highlights. “Come Back Baby” digs a little deeper into the blues, and “There is Something On Your Mind” and “What Am I Living For?” are soulful delights. The album wraps up with a sensitive reading of the old Lead Belly tune, “Goodnight Irene,” but there’s much more good stuff inside.

Give this a spin late at night with some smooth bourbon. They should go down well together.

Video of “Got to Get You Off My Mind”

Gerald McClendon – “Let’s Have A Party” (Delta Roots Records, June 25)

If you’ve been sitting around waiting for some fine new soul music to come your way, your wait is over. By “new,” I mean new recordings, but old sensibilities. You know — that classic, old-school, full-flavored soul music. Think Otis Clay, Tyrone Davis, Johnny Taylor, and on and on.

If that’s your desire, then check out this new release by Chicago’s Gerald McClendon, whose velvet pipes have earned him the nickname, “The Soul Keeper.” It’s a follow to last year’s excellent “Can’t Nobody Stop Me Now.” And it’s no coincidence that those two excellent albums have been produced and all the songs written by the insanely talented Twist Turner. He’s also the drummer on both. But it all works because it’s piped through McClendon’s superior sound system.

From the opening bars of the first cut, “Keep On Keepin’ On,” with McClendon’s soulful pipework, through a sensuous sax break, you know you’re headed for a tasty dish of sweet soul music.

The next song, “If That Ain’t the Blues,” adds some soul blues to the mix, and quickly becomes my favorite of these 12 delicious songs. It’s one thing to be able to cover classic soul sounds with some precision, but to be able to faithfully reproduce the entire process and create this masterful album is a work of art.

“If That Ain’t The Blues,” from “Let’s Have A Party”:

The Rev. Shawn Amos – “The Cause of it All” (Put Together Music, May 21)

The cause of it all, for the purpose of this terrific album, is some raw blues from a handful of the greats, taken apart and put back together in his own powerful way by harpman/vocalist Shawn Amos and guitarist Chris “Doctor” Roberts.

There are ten tracks, the first five with primitive electricity by Roberts’ guitar and the second five an acoustic effort — both making maximum use of Amos’ considerable harp skills. Some of the songs are classics, but a few are lesser-known blues gems that get a fresh look here. More than a fresh look, they get reincarnated into their primeval blues selves with wicked interpretations by this dynamic duo.

The complete track list is worth noting: “Spoonful” (Willie Dixon), “Goin’ To The Church” (Lester Butler), “Still A Fool” (Muddy Waters), “Color And Kind” (Howlin’ Wolf), “Serves Me Right To Suffer” (John Lee Hooker), “I’m Ready” (Willie Dixon), “Baby Please Don’t Go” (Traditional), “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” (Little Walter), “Hoochie Coochie Man” (Muddy Waters), “Little Anna Mae” (Muddy Waters).

Amos’ background is as fascinating as it is multi-faceted (read a fine interview here) He is an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church. And he is the son of chocolate chip cookie founder Wally “Famous” Amos.  

You’ve probably heard most of these songs a million times, but never quite like this. Treat yourself to a listen. Or several.

Here’s the track “I’m Ready”:

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