After releasing his last couple albums on his own label, Lurrie Bell is back on Delmark Records with Blues in My Soul. Those self released albums took on themes. The Devil Ain’t Got No Music was about religion and Let’s Talk about Love explored romance. Blues in My Soul abandons the thematic approach in favor of a straight-ahead set of amazing Chicago Blues played by one of the best with his stellar band. The fourteen-song set consists of three Bell originals alongside generally well-chosen (presumably by Bell and producer Dick Shurman) covers of tunes from Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Big Bill Broonzy, Otis Spann and T-Bone Walker.
The band consists of musicians Bell plays with regularly around Chicago: Matthew Skoller (harp), Roosevelt Purifoy (keyboards), Melvin Smith (bass) and Willie Hayes (drums). A horn section arranged by Marques Carroll (trumpet) and featuring Mark Hiebert (baritone sax) and Chris Neal (tenor) sax shows up on several tracks. All the players are strong throughout and each one follows Bell’s lead by playing with a remarkable economy of notes, even where they’ve got room to stretch out on tunes that extend over six minutes.
The title track is one of Bell’s originals and it’s the highlight of the album, a slow burning blues loaded with deep-digging solos from Bell and Purifoy. Bell sings about learning to accept and finally appreciate the difficulties of his life. The troubles, the blues, are now a part of him down to his very soul. Lyrically, it’s a pretty deep exploration about overcoming adversity and experiencing growth. It’s as good a description of the blues as you’ll find.
The band shines on the other slow numbers as well, particularly the closer, Otis Spann’s “The Blues Never Die.” “I Feel So Good” is the Big Bill Broonzy tune that’s also been taken on by Muddy Waters, J.B. Lenoir and others. “24 Hour Blues” is dedicated to Magic Slim. It was recorded the day Slim died and, indeed, it does sound like something that could have come straight off a Teardrops set list. “South Side to Riverside” is an insanely funky instrumental that should lead to a lot of head bobbing and foot patting. “T-Bone Blues Special” has Lurrie’s bite replacing T-Bone’s smooth style.
There are still plenty of folks playing good traditional Chicago blues, but there’s no one else that makes it sound this personal. Every time Lurrie Bell picks up his guitar or opens his mouth to sing, a lifetime of blues experience comes pouring out. This album might not be quite as consistently inspired as Bell’s very best work, but it’s high points are equal to anything. Every lover of Chicago blues should check it out. For many years, the question was whether Bell’s career was ever going to live up to his immense talent. Now, with another great album available, his recorded legacy is cemented and there is little doubt that he’s one of the greatest blues musicians of his generation.