When you talk about cerebral music, you tend to go straight to progressive rock, perhaps picturing someone like King Crimson’s Robert Fripp in a lab coat and goggles meticulously mapping out his music. Conversely, we think of blues players as flying by the seat of their pants, trying to hit record before their conscious mind takes over their playing. Shawn Pittman‘s Make It Right!, his 13th album, steps between those two worlds, the visceral joy of the blues aimed by thoughtful intentions.
Singer/guitarist Pittman, as one probably assumes from his impressive volume of work, has been playing the blues for a while. He’s also taken long breaks, even taking time to get an Information Technology degree. While you don’t suss out these biographical particulars on Make It Right!, listening to the album, the arc makes sense.
Pittman isn’t trying to impress anyone. His licks are direct. He gets as flashy as the song requires, but doesn’t go beyond that. His voice is equally straight-forward. And his music is bluesy and groove-oriented, with enough tweaks and stutter-steps so that you don’t feel like you’ve somehow heard this album before. It’s all the more impressive because the recording emerged out of down time in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Pittman had some festival dates. Working with tour manger/bassist Erkan Özdemir and Erkan’s son, drummer Levent, the three found a studio and exited with a live-sounding album that is also surprisingly planned out.
The title track is a boogie reminiscent of the Black Keys if they were more of a straight-up blues band. Pittman’s voice has a dusting of distortion which fits perfectly over a relentless groove and guitar lines that pop out of the song like church bells cutting through a quiet day. The song has a ZZ Top mania and while Pittman’s guitar work is impressive, he’s not trying to dazzle anyone; he’s inlaying songs within songs.
Which isn’t to say Pittman backs off of the guitar gas. “There Will Be a Day” is a funky Eddie Taylor cover with a particularly tasty solo. It gives the trio plenty of time to jam out and then return to Taylor’s original groove. “Woke Up Screaming, a Bobby Bland tune, is a slower funk blues, that also has a powerful beat. Pittman’s voice is in fine form, with one of his most emotional performances of the album. “I’m Done,” the album’s final track, is raucous, with a simple rhythm, call-and-response between Pittman and his band, plus a jagged slide guitar solo. Pittman’s voice is drowned in reverb, making the whole song feel like you’re listening in on a wild party.
That kind of range is what makes this such an enjoyable album. Pittman is able to lay down something fun and seemingly care-free, like “I’m Done,” while also recording tracks that feel much more intentionally constructed. But as smart as the songs are, they always feel natural and filled with life. It makes you grateful he decided to cut this album on his off days, rather than binge-watching something in his hotel.
Artist: Shawn Pittman
Title: Make It Right!
Label: Continental Blue Heaven
Release Date: April 10, 2020
Running Time: 47:11
*Feature image courtesy of the artist