Chicago Blues giant Buddy Guy knows how to make an album. Set for release on July 30th, his 77th birthday, Guy’s 2-disc Rhythm & Blues released through RCA Records is a leading-edge, powerful achievement from the biggest name in the blues. In short, self-respecting blues and music fans with a pulse should be counting the minutes until Buddy’s latest release.
The two-disc set features no shortage of breaking, monstrous, largely original blues. On this outing, Buddy’s brought along some super-star talent, all of whom have long professed their reverence for the blues. Kid Rock, Gary Clark Jr, Beth Hart, Keith Urban, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford all make landmark contributions. The wildly talented Tom Hambridge, who produced Guy’s last two albums (and won a Grammy for Buddy’s Living Proof in 2010), returns on production for his latest.
The Rhythm disc starts out with a Memphis soul groove, beautiful horn section, and some of Guy’s earth-shaking guitar licks as he sings about “being the best until the best comes around”. Imagining there’s better than the long-time Chicago music giant is hard to do. For an album boldly named, Rhythm, the track sets the tone artfully. Beth Hart lends a burning duet with Buddy on “What You Gonna Do About Me” with fist-tight rhythm horns and Buddy’s trademark wailing riffs.
“Messin’ with the Kid” is an ambitious, progressive cover of Junior Well’s original — a track which Buddy originally played guitar on for 1965’s Hoodoo Man Blues. While blues purists have sight-unseen panned Kid Rock’s involvement, his gravelly voice together with Buddy’s, and the duo’s respective trademarked rollicking song antics finally separate a version of “Messin'” from the oceans of covers over the decades. Searing B3 courtesy of Reese Wynans helps bring the track home.
The second album, Blues, kicks off with a “not your mama’s twelve bar” homage to Guy’s long-adopted hometown of Chicago. If the windy city were to pick a new theme song to replace the classic-yet-covered-ad-finum, “Sweet Home Chicago”, this needs to be it. In between the mighty B3 and Buddy’s shocking guitar work, he talks about the best of the city over the top of the blues chords that cemented the town’s place in music.
“Blues Don’t Care” features a twelve bar showcase with Buddy and Gary Clark, Jr. doing what both do beyond incredibly: play the blues. There’s not a lot of technical gadgetry here: just a piano-backed, barrelhousing, lick-trading duet between two blues superstars: one emerging with an exciting new generation, one a legend & veteran who’s been breaking new ground for decades.
“Evil Twin” is a scorcher of a blues track, and for good reason: three of the boys from Aerosmith, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and Brad Whitford join in to help. Aerosmith has long professed their heavy blues influences, and Tyler’s rough-around-the-edges vocals are bluesier than they’ve ever been.
Buddy don’t like to brag, but on “Poison Ivy” he’ll break out all over you. The original tracks on this album are everything fans have come to expect from the blues superstar: witty and bawdy lyrics with a wink, a nod, and some of the most powerful guitar work caught on tape.
On Rhythm & Blues, like Sweet Tea, Living Proof, and Skin Deep before it, Buddy continues to innovate in exciting ways while being dead true to the genre that he’s played such a pivotal role in developing. Mainstream radio, to it’s own peril, has often ignored Buddy Guy’s albums, despite a lifetime in the industry, being a six-time Grammy Award winner, recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, and lauded as the best-of-the-best by everyone from Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page. This time, however, some high-profile blues loving friends may finally help Buddy Guy’s Rhythm & Blues get the serious airplay that Buddy Guy’s deserved since the 60s.