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Monday, December 21, 2015

Buddy Guy: Feels Like Rain


1) She's A Superstar; 2) I Go Crazy; 3) Feels Like Rain; 4) She's Nineteen Years Old; 5) Some Kind Of Wonderful; 6) Sufferin' Mind; 7) Change In The Weather; 8) I Could Cry; 9) Mary Ann; 10) Trouble Man; 11) Country Man.

The success of Damn Right, I've Got The Blues gave birth to a prolific pattern to which Buddy has more or less conformed ever since, releasing a steady stream of records with one or two year intervals that are pretty much interchangeable, some being slightly more and some slightly less interesting, of course — essentially, though, lovers of Buddy will want to savor them all, while those who are largely indifferent to modern electric blues might just pay a little attention to those few tracks on which Buddy's guitar playing occasionally transcends the genre's limitations.

Feels Like Rain, unfortunately, has no such tracks. Like its predecessor, it is a mish-mash of some really old blues tunes, some comparably old R&B hits, and a few contemporary, but still retro-oriented compositions — all of them impeccably played and produced, and featuring some guest stars to boost up sales; this time, though, Buddy goes with some lesser profiles, the most notable of the lot probably being Bonnie Raitt and Paul Rodgers, and with John Mayall and Travis Tritt in tow. Accusations of «pandering to mainstream tastes», which sometimes accom­pany descriptions of this record, are a little misguided: with or without all these people, Feels Like Rain would still feel exactly like Buddy Guy — if he choked the arrangements up with solemn synthesizer parts, or started studying Madchester beats, that'd be a whole other story, but these guys are just following the boss' directions, 'sall.

What is actually much worse than abstract «pandering to the mainstream» is the inclusion of all those covers. What business does Buddy really have in trying to not just cover Muddy Waters' ʽShe's Nineteen Years Oldʼ, but to actually imitate Muddy, both in his vocals and his guitar play­ing? It's one thing to adapt the song to his own style, but have we all lost access to the old records or something? Is the intended target audience of the cover supposed to consist of people who'd never ever want to listen to a song from 1958 because it's, like, all mono and shit? It's not very likely that those same people would be interested in investing their money in a record by an old geezer who was 22 himself in 1958. Likewise, it is not very uplifting when he tries to appeal to the James Brown fanbase (ʽI Go Crazyʼ) or, God help us, the Grand Funk Railroad fanbase (ʽSome Kind Of Wonderfulʼ — which most people certainly associate with GFR rather than Soul Brothers Six) instead.

My own favorite tracks here are the two blues-rock rave-ups that bookmark the album and are credited to Buddy himself — ʽShe's A Superstarʼ and ʽCountry Manʼ (not that he had much to compose on either one, except for some new lyrical lines). Totally generic in basic form, they are simply used by Buddy as launchpads for some major master soloing, with heavy wah-wah sup­port and a speedy, guitar-throttling approach where his note sequences cover each other like rippling waves, rather than jagged, broken, dissonant patterns that he favors more often. The words of ʽCountry Manʼ, which he delivers like a passionate defense speech in court ("I'm a country man, baby, you know I ain't ashamed / That's why I'm crazy 'bout my guitar, that's why I surely will keep on playing"), ring a little strange, seeing as how Buddy was always professional­ly associated with «urban» Chicago blues — but then again, he did spend all of his childhood in Lettsworth, Louisiana, and if he means that it is precisely this rustic pedigree that gives him the strength and the stubborness to push on in his «conservatively innovative» manner, more power to the man, I say. He certainly plays the hell out of his guitar on that track as if each new verse he delivers on the subject provides him with extra strength to do it.

If you are in the mood to relax a little, the title track, written by John Hiatt and sung and played by Buddy in a duet with Bonnie Raitt, will do a reasonably good job as well. Nothing particularly special on the hook / riff / arrangement front, but Bonnie's slide playing is always welcome, and her raspy vocal support in the background feels... well, suffice it to say that there's a pleasantly optimistic vibe to all of this, and that Buddy's singing is almost unusually sensitive and vulne­rable, compared to his usual standards.

That said, three songs to salvage out of eleven is not a particularly awesome quota; and the rest, ranging from the puzzling (dueting with Paul Rodgers on ʽSome Kind Of Wonderfulʼ? How gauche!) to the unremarkable (dueting with John Mayall on ʽI Could Cryʼ? How... nostalgic...), are nothing to write home about. Of course, that did not stop the man from scooping up yet another Grammy here for «best contemporary blues album» — for almost total lack of competition, I suppose — but honestly, it does not seem as if the guy was trying too hard here. Fortunately, he would begin pinching himself way hard for the next release, just in the nick of time to escape being pegged down as a particularly smelly dinosaur.

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