Friday, December 12, 2014

The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold

Produced by Duke Robillard, Billy Boy Arnold’s new Stony Plain recording “The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold” has him performing songs he has long loved along with originals, early R&B songs, blues/jazz standards and some rare soul gems. Arnold’s vocals and harmonica are backed by Robillard’s guitar and band with Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira’s drums with a horn section of regular Robillard associates Rich Lataille, Mark Earley and Doug Wooverton.

Arnold can be an effective vocalist but with some exceptions, including a compelling West Side Chicago blues-styled remake of B.B. King’s “Worried Dream” (with some great Robillard guilt), and the classic Chicago blues shuffle groove of Arnold’s original “What’s on the Menu Mama,” most of this is simply pleasant. Arnold’s use of harp on an old Mack Rice soul classic “Coal Man” gives it a different flavor, but his limited range and simple vocal style doesn't render a strong impression on the old Eddie Miller classic “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” or “Nat Adderly’s “Work Song” (with Oscar brown’s lyrics). These are not bad performances, but there are many better recordings of “Muddy Water” (thinking Lou Rawls and Carmen Bradford) and Gregory Porter has placed his stamp on “Work Song.”

There is a nice variety of material and Duke has provided solid settings for Arnold’s singing with solid playing by all including nice slide guitar from Duke on “99 LBs.”  Bears plays some rollicking piano on ”Muddy Water,” and displays a jazzy touch on “St. James Infirmary.” Arnold adds nice harp throughout in his distinctive style and the ensemble give a touch of Southern Soul in the backing for the remakes of “Coal Man” and Joe Tex’s still relevant topical song “A Mother’s Prayer.” They also do a solid job in backing Arnold on a nicely done Ray Charles cover, “Don’t Set Me Free” 

The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold" is an enjoyable recording with a couple of stand-out selections.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is Billy Boy from several decades ago strongly singing a Jimmy McCracklin classic.

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