Blues on My Shoulder
Gandy Dancer Records
New England guitarist Peter Ward has not forgotten his blues roots growing up in Maine. " I grew up wearing out the vinyl records trying to understand how Robert Jr. Lockwood, Tiny Grimes, Louis Meyers and Jimmy Rogers made songs sound so good. It's what I wanted to do." The chords, fills and bass runs still delight him today and he treasures when Otis Rush told him decades ago that he (Peter) played chords like "an old man." He also had a stint touring as part of the Legendary Blues Band, "The way they played blues was everything I believed in, then and now."
On this recording of 12 originals and a cover of Robert Nighthawk's recording of "Kansas City Blues," he has an all star cast of players on various tracks, including guitar legend Ronnie Earl, Sax Gordon Beadle on sax and the members of Sugar Ray and the Bluetones: Sugar Ray Norcia (vocals and harmonica), “Monster” Mike Welch (guitar), Anthony Geraci (piano), Michael “Mudcat” Ward (Peter’s brother – bass) and Neil Gouvin (drums).
Ward is a Chicago blues traditionalist as evident on the opening "She Took It All," a song about his ex taking his Cds and mp3s set to a Jimmy Rogers styled shuffle groove with Norcia adding nice harmonica along with a fine guitar solo and it has one Ward's better vocals here. "Witch Hazel" is a tribute to Chuck Berry with simple bass and drum support and an effective Berry inspired guitar solo. The title track is a modern Chicago blues with a driving groove and more fine harp from Norcia. It is followed by "Collaborate," a song where Norcia takes the vocal (and has a harp solo) with Ward displaying Robert Lockwood Jr.'s influence and Sax Beadle adding musical accents.
Instrumentals like "Shiprock," show his deft touch and a relaxed attack, while "Southpaw," is an tough organ-guitar number with Rusty Scott adding grease while Ward is in a jazzy vein here. His playing on "On the Ropes," has a bit of country twang mixed in. Geraci and Norcia also sound fine here. Geraci's rollicking piano is present on "What Can I Do To You?" with fair singing along with the backing. Ronnie Earl and Sax Beadle are on a couple tracks, an easy rocking shuffle, "It's On Me," and a tough West Side Chicago styled blues, "A Little More." Earl is terrific behind Ward's singing, and really explodes on the latter number. "Colletta" has a country blues feel with Eric Kilburn adding mandolin, and followed a cover of Robert Nighthawk's recording of "Kansas City Blues," a song first recorded by Jim Jackson in the twenties.
The closing "Drummin' Willie," is a tribute to Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith, who had "that deep blues sound," and his remembrance of Willie and the Legendary Blues Band as he lists some of those he has played with. It is set to a Muddy Waters styled backing by Sugar Ray and associates. It is a straight-forward, solid close to this recording. Ward is an effective, if not great, vocalist, and a fluent guitarist rooted in the classic Chicago blues tradition and produced a very appealing release.
I received my review copy from a publicist. I have made a few clarifying edits to the review that appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Peter performing "Kansas City Blues."