Monday, June 09, 2008

Jimmy Johnson Highpoint of Excellent Dave Specter Live CD/DVD

Guitarist Dave Specter has built up quite a performing and recording resume over the past two decades. His crisp, inventive blues guitar has added elements of organ funk and jazz to his swinging guitar playing. Delmark has just issued the latest in their live CD/DVDs of blues performers, “Live in Chicago” by Specter. Recorded and Videographed at Buddy Guy’s Legends, and Rosa’s Lounge, we are treated to some of his taut instrumentals along with performances by guests Tad Robinson, Jimmy Johnson and Sharrie Williams. The DVD (which my review is based on) runs close to 90 minutes while this writer estimates that the CD has approximately 70 minutes of music.

The DVD opens at Legends with pictures of great blues legends on the wall with Specter and his band of Brother John Kattle on keyboards, Harlan Terson on bass and Marty Binder tearing into a medley of ‘Boss Funk/Riverside Ride,’ some choice soul-jazz blues funk that displayed not only Specter’s hot guitar playing, but the terrific interplay between the band members. This is one terrific rhythm section that swings and keeps the groove rocking in the pocket. keying on the music and the musicians, the camera work was first rate and focused where it belonged the most. After the instrumentals, Tad Robinson is brought up and handles three vocals, ‘What Love Did to me,’ ‘How I got to Memphis,’ and ‘What’s Your Angle.’ Robinson is amongst the most soulful of the blues-eyed blues vocalists working today and he also adds some choice harmonica to the first and third number. His soulful reworking of Tom T. Hall’s ‘When I Get to Memphis,’ may be his most impressive vocal here, and the band does a great job of supporting him, with Specter adding some nice solos.

After another driving original instrumental ,’Texas Top,’ Jimmy Johnson is brought up and turns in what are even for him exceptional performances. he opens up with an extended take on Jimmy Rogers’ ‘Out on the Road,’ with some brilliant guitar and an even more compelling vocal. Listen to him phrase ,”Take me back, take me back, take me back, baby, darling try me one more time,” to see how takes this tune and makes it his own. It is nothing against David Specter, who has a really fine solo on this number after Johnson’s, to say that the 79 year old Johnson steals the show on his three numbers that also include a strong ‘Feel So Bad,’ and the Willie Cobbs’ standard, ‘You Don’t Love,’ which is not included on the CD. Based on his stint here, Johnson certainly merits his own live CD/DVD.

The DVD shifts gears and moves to Rosa’s Lounge with a nice funky organ-guitar shuffle, ‘The Hollywood Park Shuffle,’ (not on the CD), followed by the funky ‘Is What it Is,’ with plenty of tasty guitar and organ. Then Sharon Lewis brings up her big voice to belt out a trio of songs, ‘In Too Deep,’ ‘Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone,’ (not on the CD) and ‘Angel.’ ‘In Too Deep,’ is a driving shuffle that Sharon belts out about catching her man with another woman, with solid solo breaks from Specter and Kattle, while ‘Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone,’ is a slower number with a nice funk groove as she tells her cheating lover, that every goodbye she makes does not mean she’s gone. the closing ‘Angel,’ suggesting me of a soulful southern rock groove which allows Specter and band to change gears and allows Lewis to show her vocal and musical versatility.

This is an impressive live recording/video. Specter is not simply a first-rate musician and leads a terrific band, but he is also willing to share the spotlight with others. With Jimmy Johnson’s truly stunning performances and the other strong music here, it may be the best live blues DVD that Delmark has issued. Highly recommended.

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