Blues covers? We Brits have been doing those since the cows came home, sometimes our illustrious rock gods even credit the original songwriter, albeit that’s not often the whole truth. How to put some spit and polish on an old penny and make believe you’re giving value for money then?
The way Midlands-born Joanne Shaw Taylor’s gone about that is to avoid the Muddy Waters songbook and bypass those numbers credited to Willie Dixon, opting for some rarer choice cuts, but ones that have previously been stamped with approval by the likes of Albert King, Peter Green, Little Richard and Aretha Franklin.
“I’d known from the beginning of my recording career that one day I wanted to record an album of blues covers, I just wasn’t sure when the right time to do that would be,” Taylor remarked last year, adding, “I’ve always found it far easier to write my own material than come up with creative ways to make other artists’ material my own.”
When the pandemic put the brakes on musicians touring, she felt the time was right, and mentioned it to fellow guitarist Joe Bonamassa who went from being a soundboard for opinions to co-producer with Josh Smith, having many of his own band appear on the album and releasing it under his own KTBA Records label. The concern here being the end result might sound like him, rather than the lady herself, but that’s fortunately not the case.
If there’s something that Bonamassa’s brought to the table it’s that we really get to hear the lady sing the blues, while adding some earthy soul. Not that her guitar playing’s been side-shifted, but in choosing the eleven tracks featured on The Blues Album, what’s concentrated on most is the fact that they are songs, and thus that’s a fair excuse to give her tonsils a healthy workout.
A casual count in gives the impression we’re in for a laidback little number with Stop Messin’ Around’ only for an abrupt shot of guitar to belies any such considerations. Good time, rocking and rolling barroom blues with steamy dirty guitar licks and a back-of-the-throat guttural vocal holler delivery puts a smile on this listener’s face. An extended piano solo is followed by one that wails out on guitar and takes you all the way home. Apparently, this is a Peter Green-penned number that he recorded with Fleetwood Mac back in 1968.
Lyrically at least, ‘If That Ain’t A Reason’ proves a natural follow-on but grooves with a funky undertow. This rendition of Little Milton’s punning number could as easily have been covered by the late Dusty Springfield, though the biting guitar solo takes us a whole other somewhere.
Next up ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me’ splashes out, squeaking and honking along, like a sensual cross between Albert King with Booker T. & The MGs’ on ‘The Hunter’ and Buddy Guy’s rendition of ‘Fever’. It’s jazzy, snazzy on the offbeat drums and razor sharp on the taught guitar refrains. ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’ has previously been covered by the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin so the critics will be honing in on this one. As it stands, Taylor wraps her throat round this well ranging from a deep smoky fully phrased delivery to a more precise higher but mellow tone, with a six-strig solo that follows suit.
‘Don’t Go Away Mad’ with the goodtime feel of the opening number this is a more country rock number, with Joe Bonamassa duetting vocally, and presumably guitars. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if they’d gone for a full country swing and added some hellraising fiddles to the proceedings. Its briefly followed by ‘Scraps Vignette’, a playful rhythmic but pretty sweet instrumental that’s halfway been Santana and The Allman Brothers.
There’s more meat on the big band intro afforded ‘Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me’ with its keep on trucking blues, wherein the guitar lets out squeals of mischievous delight one moment and pained aguish the next.
‘Let Me Down Easy’ proves a gentler affair, with echoed effect-tipped chords and big blues horns, as it builds like a blue power ballad. With ‘Two Time My Lovin’ with take another dip into country rock, albeit the guitar pickings’ as much rockabilly as ska at times. It’s a Fabulous Thunderbirds number that give some added early sixties swing. Stepping back another decade, there’s a late 50s vibe to ‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got’ with its wide-mouthed jazzy lead vocal phrasing, female backing, and you half expect some doo-wops to be thrown into proceedings, they’re not but the tune does feature Mike Farris as special guest.
The album calls time with ‘Three Time Loser’. A loud guitared shuffling blues rocker, with big rolling boogie piano pulling its weight, reminding how The Blues Album began and box ending it nicely.
My lack of familiarity with most of these songs means I come with untainted ears. Others may find the tracks less enthralling than their originals, but what I get from this is a goodtime, big band sound, that’s a little loose, nicely loud when Taylor works her fretboard up into a frothy orgasm, and sings some pretty good tunes along the way.
The Blues Album is available by clicking here.