Review: Otis Grand – Blues ’65

Posted on: Monday, Nov 19, 2012

Otis Grand CD front small.jpg

Otis Grand – Blues ’65

(MainGate Records: MGRCDA103)

The Lebanon-born, California-raised and long-time British based guitarist Otis Grand has long been a favourite on the blues scene, releasing a host of fine albums that have always been true to the tradition, and winning a host of awards as well, and he follows up 2007s’ “Hipster Blues”, with this marvellous evocation of a period in his life when the timeless blues of the legendary BB King grabbed him, hence “Blues ’65”.

As has often been the case to record Grand calls on his ‘heavyweight’ American friends from the Boston area to provide the backing to his always impressive and beautifully toned guitar work, namely the great Sugar Ray Norcia (vocals & harmonica), Anthony Geraci (keyboards), Michael ‘Mudcat’ Ward (bass) and Neil Gouvin (drums) . . . and also the mighty horn section of Greg Piccolo (saxophone), Carl Querfurth (slide trombone), John Peter LoBello (trumpet), Doug ‘Mr Low’ James (saxophone) and Paul Maffi (saxophone) . . . phew, that is some cast list.

Otis Grand adds authenticity to the music of the period by playing mostly a Gibson ES-355, with added guitar contributions from ‘Monster’ Mike Welch, and a guest vocal from former band member Brother Roy Oakley. The 13 cuts here feature some choice covers and co-writes between Grand and Norcia, and also with his regular writing partner Lori Basson.

Things get off to a glorious double blast . . . firstly with a swinging romp through “Pretend” – at varying times a hit for Nat King Cole, Carl Mann on Sun Records, and even Alvin Stardust . . . it’s followed by the gorgeous Charlie Rich song, “Who Will The Next Fool Be”, perhaps best known for the Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland version. Both full of glorious horns, stinging guitar work and of course, the ‘smooth as silk’ vocals from Sugar Ray Norcia.

The smooth slow blues of “Bad News Blues On TV” is a gem, a glorious swinging horn section lay down the groove with Grand firing off some incisive fills and solos on this cautionary tale of our times, with a fabulous Sugar Ray Norcia vocal and some delightful piano from Anthony Geraci as he spars with the guitar lines. The instrumental “Rumba Conga Twist” recalls the copper-bottomed classic “Woke Up This Morning” and is a showcase for Otis Grand, backed by the punchy horns, as the rumba  gives way to a cracking shuffle.

The ensemble take on another classic in the shape of Stonewall Jackson’s “I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water” . . . a hit for Johnny Rivers and also recorded by Elvis Presley . . . with some sweet harmonica from Sugar Ray Norcia. Grand and band return to some Charlie Rich on “Midnight Blues”, with Norcia’s vocal giving it a soulful edge. Former touring band member Brother Roy Oakley takes a vocal on “Please Don’t Leave”, with a definite New Orleans feel to this one, and another telling contribution from the horns.

Elsewhere, “The Shag Shuffle” sees ‘Monster’ Mike Welch and Anthony Geraci soloing to great effect on this, another beauty of an instrumental. The pace is taken down for “Warning Blues”, a Norcia/Grand co-write, with Sugar Ray on more harmonica and telling, fiery solos from Otis. This belting album ends on a high with the rip-roaring “Baby Please (Don’t Tease)” . . . with a right old party going on . . . horns swing, the guitar roars, rhythm section right on the money, . . . in fact that could be any track on “Blues ’65”!

Otis Grand is a true bluesman to the core, and he and his fine group of musicians have delivered another winner here . . . highly recommended, and among this years best releases without doubt.

GRAHAME RHODES

www.otisgrand.com

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