Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Curtis Salgado's Superb Soul Shot

While some may know Curtis Salgado from his association with John Belushi and his influence in The Blues Brothers, Curtis Salgado has established himself along with Tad Robinson, Sugar Ray Norcia and Darrell Nulisch as a superb blue-eye soul and blues singer (and also a pretty fair harmonica player. Well documented health issues may have put a temporary stop to his career, but he reemerged in 2008 with “Clean Getaway” on Shanachie backed by The Phantom Blues Band. That was a strong effort and he is back with a new release, Soul Shot, his Alligator debut that is co-produced by Phantom Blues Band drummer Tony Braunagel (who produced the Shanachie disc) along with funk and R&B guitarist Marlon McClain, and Salgado himself.

Salgado contributed seven originals which are heard along with covers of recordings from Parliament, the Detroit Emeralds, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, and Otis Redding. The performances on Soul Shot is perhaps a bit more soul oriented than the prior release and one hears echoes of the late Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records Production (particularly in the churning rhythms on many of the eleven selections), Johnny Guitar Watson and others in the handsome production and brassy arrangements. Members of the Phantom Blues band are on this including Mike Finnigan on keyboards.

This recording was made for dancing as well as listening. A groover, What You Gonna Do? opens and Salgado delivers the soulful goods with his vocal with the band rocking hard and the following Love Comfort Zone, may take the rhythmic heat down a notch, but the naturalness of Salgado’s vocals is evident as is the strong idiomatic playing by the studio band. What stands out is that he doesn’t sound like he is trying to sound soulful. There is a relaxed feel in his phrasing as well as his cries and shouts.

Getting To Know You, from a lesser known Parliament album, is a performance than suggests vintage Hi Records that I think Otis Clay and Syl Johnson might have an appreciative nod about. It is the first appearance of Salgado’s harp, followed a strong piano break by Finnigan. He sounds like he is playing a melodica to open She Didn't Cut Me Loose, an original performed in the style of Johnny Watson’s funky seventies blues. It compares well with Salgado’s strong revival of Watson’s Strung Out, a terrific soulful ballad performance. Perhaps the only musical miscue is the revival of Otis Redding’s Love Man, where he sounds like he is trying to channel Redding’s vocal. Not a bad performance, but a step down from the rest of this. The track does sport a booting tenor sax solo.

On a stronger note is Nobody But You where he channels O.V. Wright as he sings about his woman making him feel like a king when he was nothing but a slave. He Played His Harmonica is a superb mix of funk and blues as he sings about a young blood who got the house to jump and shout as he was as bad as Al Capone on the Windy City saxophone, on which he takes a jazzy sounding vein.

Soul Shot provides more evidence that the accolades Curtis Salgado has received over the years have been well earned. It is a superb recording with worthy new material and covers of songs that have not been interpreted to death. Fans of classic soul particularly will enjoy it.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records, who is officially releasing it today (April 10). On April 19 I will be posting a review of Curtis' "Clean Getaway" from a few years back.  Here is Curtis performing on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise.

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