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Monday, November 30, 2015

Buddy Guy: Breaking Out


1) Have You Ever Been Lonesome; 2) You Can Make It If You Try; 3) Break Out All Over You; 4) She Winked Her Eye; 5) I Didn't Know My Mother Had A Son Like Me; 6) Boogie Family Style; 7) You Called Me In My Dream; 8) Me & My Guitar.

Apparently, this period in Buddy Guy's career is so ridiculously understudied and underapprecia­ted that not even the Internet, our most trustworthy and loyal counselor in all things (especially when it comes to the latest pop crap single that sold 100,000 copies in three digital minutes), can be relied upon for cohesive information. The (current) Wikipedia page for this album states, for instance, that it was issued in 1988, and it probably was (still other sources say 1996 and/or 2008), but it was actually a late reissue — the original date seems to be 1980 or 1981 at best. The All-Music Guide review of the album, other than listing some of the credits, gets away with one or two vague phrases that could be equally well applied to 99% of Buddy's output ("raw but applied talent and showmanship" — what the hell does "raw but applied" even mean?), and gives no clue as to whether the reviewer has even heard the songs. Who do you turn to for comfort?

Well, at least the good old Only Solitaire is here to tell you that Breaking Out sounds nothing like anything that Buddy had put out prior to that — and only partially like anything that he would put out after that. The oddity of the record is that, while remaining firmly grounded in standard blues territory, this time it's all about the tone. Yes, this is where Buddy falls upon a new, rich, not totally unique or innovative, but seriously idiosyncratic electric guitar tone — thick, trebly, distorted, echoey, crackling but melodic — and proceeds to explore it on every single song on the album. You might suspect it makes things monotonous and boring, but it does not: since there is enough formal diversity (slow 12-bar, fast 12-bar, boogie, ballad, R&B), all it does is make every single song kick major ass.

ʽHave You Ever Been Lonesomeʼ, presented here as an «original» number, is really just ʽFive Long Yearsʼ (var.: ʽHave You Ever Loved A Womanʼ) with new lyrics, but you could argue that the presence of this tone is really the thing that makes it original, particularly when the man shuts up and just plays his guitar — fast, passionate, thunderstormy, irreverent, and with the guitar assuming the language of a raging bull. I would still insist that when Clapton did the same thing on his From The Cradle fifteen years later (and seriously influenced by Buddy), he would be able to come up with more inventive phrasing... but he never had this kind of tone, and whatever be the case, Buddy got there first.

When he experiments with the same tone on softer numbers, such as ʽYou Can Make It If You Tryʼ, the results are tasteful but not quite as exciting — Breaking Out is really all about «brea­king out» on such rip-roaring tracks as the funky ʽI Didn't Know My Mother Had A Son Like Meʼ, or the breathlessly fast ʽBoogie Family Styleʼ, or the totally instrumental showcase ʽMe & My Guitarʼ that closes the album with five minutes of fretboard assassination that seems to be de­livered in one uninterrupted blast, as if the player's brain were operating on a single powerful charge/impulse that took that long to discharge: normally, these blues jams tend to run out of steam pretty fast, but this here is just one uninterrupted gulp, like watching somebody pick up a wine barrel and drain it off in one go. Listening to this in headphones could indeed make one dizzy and delirious, especially considering the potential psychedelic effects of that treated tone, so be careful about this.

Little can be said about the virtues of individual songs, melodies, or supporting instrumentation — and little needs to be said, since it is all about that tone and the power to use it. Buddy would go on using it in the future, but, strangely enough, never again would he make an album of such stubborn consistency: Breaking Out is indeed a stylistic oddity in his catalog, and a very wel­come one, I'd say. Definitely a thumbs up if you're in the mood for some serious whiplashing.

1 comment:

  1. I saw Buddy Guy in a 150-200 seat room in 1990. Ever since then I have looked for recordings to recapture that experience. I finally found it when I looked up Have You Ever Been Lonesome on youtube after reading this review.

    Thanks so much.