“Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread–without it, it’s flat.” ~ Carmen McRae
The masterfully versatile and creative late guitarist Jeff Golub followed that opinion, continually allowing his diverse influences (blues, rock, & soul/R&B) to surface on his contemporary jazz musical excursions. When Golub was faced with the quandary of how to follow up on his commercially successful solo release Grand Central, the crafty guitarist/composer’s answer was to dig deep and fully unearth his blues roots.
The resulting release in 2009, Blues For You, found Golub skillfully bending the guitar strings, with plenty of his signature vibrato and flair on eleven exceptional blues ventures that allowed his guitar to cry and sing. To the mix Golub enlisted a few talented vocalist friends to allot the project further zeal and gusto. The attained end result proved to be an exceedingly pleasing cross section of different blues styles and tempos that is a bona fide delight and essential recording.
On the opening track, Golub trades tasty guitar lead licks with Chris Palmaro’s robust Hammond B-3 organ on the funk/blues shuffle appropriately entitled “Shuffleboard.” Palmaro also shares credit with Jeff as co-writer of this dynamite lead-off song. The rhythm section of bassist Tony Garnier and drummer Shawn Pelton are skillful and assist expertly for the entire duration of Blues For You.
The legendary J. Geils Band lead vocalist Peter Wolf knows how to get a party started and his whoop-it-up vocals vie for attention with Jeff’s combustible blues/rock guitar on “Rooster Blues.” On this classic song made famous by Lightnin’ Slim, when Wolf sings with pure conviction, “we’re gonna’ rock all night” you better believe it.
Exalted guest tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum provides a sharp and sassy counterpoint on “Goin’ On,” a song that is slightly reminiscent of “Good Mornin’ Little Schoolgirl.” Having paired with Golub on tour with Guitars and Saxes, the two contemporary jazz royalty stalwarts shared a chemistry that was stimulatingly arousing. The rat-a-tat drumming of Shawn Pelton complements this savory blues stew. Whalum hails from the city of Memphis and that city’s soul/blues/rock pedigree is saluted magnificently on this song. Sounding both retro and still contemporary at the same time, “Goin’ On” is pure smoldering joy.
Golub joined up with his former boss (early 1980’s) and rock and roll singer/guitarist Billy Squire on a revision of one of Squire’s biggest hits “Everybody Wants You.” This time song is much looser with Squire’s vocals earthily raw. The pair trade raucous bluesy guitar licks back and forth with the sensation that they are also passing a whiskey bottle at the same time. The guitar blows are razor sharp, with the duo’s shared familiarity breeding an easy intimacy that permits the song to flow comfortably without restraint.
“The Blink Of An Eye” is a prime example of Golub’s string bending prowess. Jeff supplies a slow and steamy blues number that reminds me of the sort of impassioned song that Roy Buchanan built his well-deserved reputation from. Golub’s guitar literally sings the gorgeous melody, providing simmering sustained notes and searing feedback in tandem with the Hammond B-3 underpinning laid down by Kenny White. Emotionally draining and soul touching music, it’s an instant classic. And, like most of life’s treasured moments, it seems to be here and gone in the blink of an eye.
A classic written by the legendary Mississippi Delta “Jazz Sage” Mose Allison is adroitly covered by Golub and his cohorts. The tune is Allison’s immortal “I Don’t Worry About A Thing,” which is perhaps most famous for playing during the opening credits of the movie The Whole Nine Yards. This rendition contains a wry rasping and fully relaxed vocal by Marc Cohn. Kenny White again shines on the keys while the sublime Golub channels the old-time blues guitar greats to carve out a truly timeless performance.
The Nick Lane arranged horn treatment on “Nikki’s Walk” is sweet as candy and suggestive of the great soul/blues songs coming from Stax and Muscle Shoals back in the day. All throughout Blues For You, the horns (Nick Lane – trombone, Rick Braun – trumpet and Dave Woodford – sax) flesh out the songs with simple, yet elegantly radiant brass arrangements that ooze warmth and light. Jeff Golub’s history of having recorded memorable music with all three of these richly gifted artists produces a seamless schematic for precise teamwork. Golub offers up brief tense stinging guitar stabs and flashes of King-like guitar brilliance (pick one; he simultaneously resembles Albert, B.B. or Freddie King). Or perhaps, his guitar play here is closer to Buddy Guy. Regardless, it’s a pleasure to hear, as are the propulsive bass lines provided by Tony Garnier.
Dr. John’s gumbo vibe is playfully present on “Lost Mind,” thanks to John Waite’s authoritative vocals and Kenny White’s splendid Louisiana swamp blues piano style. Jeff Golub punctuates the song with incisive blues runs as Waite compellingly sings “If you could be so kind, to help me find my mind, I’d like to thank you in advance. Know this before you start, my soul’s been torn apart, I lost my mind in a wild romance.”
“Gone Fishin’,” the cleverly titled Golub/Palmaro instrumental, has a laid-back vibe with a sunshiny, full of southern soul, warm feel. You can easily imagine Jeff broadly smiling while he plays the shimmering guitar with unhurried eloquence. The guitar showcase tune “I’ll Play The Blues For You,” has a “Born Under A Bad Sign” meets “Thrill Is Gone” swagger that is deftly embraced by Golub. His straight from the heart approach to guitar play displays his earnest love for the blues. He absolutely mastered the art of applying tension and release to great advantage. The musicianship of all involved is sharply focused and super strong as they follow Jeff’s incredible example.
During his stellar recording career, Jeff Golub consistently delivered quality music that is, first and foremost, entertaining. Blues For You definitely fits that description. The musical sincerity and wall-to-wall luster of Blues For You is flawlessly presented by a guitarist with precious few peers. If guitar driven blues is your cup of tea, I’d highly recommend crawling through broken glass to get your hands on a copy of this release.