Review: Chuck Leavell – Back To The Woods
Posted on: Thursday, Mar 21, 2013
Chuck Leavell – Back To The Woods
(CrossCut Records: CCD 11107)
It’s fair to say that blues piano has played a major part of the history of the music, but probably has been down the ‘pecking order’ in popularity behind guitar and harmonica . . . however for all fans of the great players of the past comes this lovely release from Chuck Leavell . . . “Back To The Woods”, subtitled ‘a tribute to the pioneers of blues piano’ . . . and a heartfelt one at that!
Chuck Leavell currently occupies the keyboard berth with The Rolling Stones, first playing with them in 1982, and also was in The Allman Brothers from 1972-76, forming his own band, Sea Level after this and releasing several albums on the Capricorn label. This beautiful package offers 15 classic piano blues from the likes of Leroy Carr, Little Brother Montgomery, Memphis Slin, Otis Spann and more . . . and as Leavell says in his notes, he has not sought to replicate the originals but rather interpret them in his own way, and a fine job he has made of it too.
The core band comprises of Leavell himself on piano, organ and lead vocals; with Chris Enghauser (stand-up bass) and Louis Romanos (drums), together with some notable special guests. A brace of Little Brother Montgomery tunes ‘bookend’ the album . . . starting with a rolling and funky “No Special Rider”, and ending with the oft-recorded classic “Vicksburg Blues”, originally recorded in 1930.
The first of the afore-mentioned special guests, Keith Richards, adds some tasty acoustic guitar to Leroy Carr’s “Evening Train”, and then John Mayer steps up to the plate to add some sparkling electric guitar on a rollicking take on Memphis Slim’s “Wish Me Well”. The two come together and trade licks on Otis Spann’s “Boots And Shoes”, not surprisingly this is a standout here, with Leavell’s rolling piano work and gritty voice adding to the heady mix.
Elsewhere Chris Enghauser’s fine double bass starts off a funky reading of Leroy Carr’s “Naptown Blues”, with Danny Barnes on lead vocal; the title track, Charlie Spand’s “Back To The Woods” again features Danny Barnes, this time on guitar and tuba – a talented guy! The breakneck-paced “I Got To Go Blues”, penned by Illinois player Barrelhouse Chuck McFarland is noteable for some dynamic violin from David Blackmon, giving it an almost ‘Western Swing’ feel.
For all blues piano fans out there an essential purchase, from a consumate professional musician with a fine supporting cast ‘doffing the cap’ to the folk who inspired him . . . . a very fine release indeed, as with all CrossCut releases beautifully packaged with excellent notes from Leavell himself, and Larry Cohn, and also a brief history of the early history of the piano blues and profiles of the players.
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