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Monday, January 25, 2016

Buddy Guy: Blues Singer


1) Hard Time Killing Floor; 2) Crawlin' Kingsnake; 3) Lucy Mae Blues; 4) Can't See Baby; 5) I Love The Life I Live; 6) Louise McGhee; 7) Moanin' And Groanin'; 8) Black Cat Blues; 9) Bad Life Blues; 10) Sally Mae; 11) Anna Lee; 12) Lonesome Home Blues.

Okay, so apparently «Sweet Tea» is the name of the recording studio in Oxford, Mississippi, where Buddy made that album — and also its follow-up two years later: an «other-side-of-me» companion piece, all quiet and acoustic as opposed to Sweet Tea's ferociously electric thunder­storms. On paper, this sounds like a promising idea that could work: in fact, it does seem like a much better proposition to replace the older sequence of «one kick-ass hard-rocking album, one boring commercial album» with a more basic «one electric, one acoustic» approach. Reality, however, turns out to be disappointing.

The thing is, Buddy Guy is not a great acoustic guitar player — much like his late buddy Hendrix, his «native» sphere is the electric guitar, where he experiments with tones, effects, feedback, and dissonance. Switching to acoustic, he just plays it: plays the blues, that is, like any averagely com­petent blues guitarist does (okay, make it «more than average», but still, there's literally hun­dreds of guys who have the same kind of acoustic technique and versatility as Buddy). Granted, the album is named Blues Singer, not Blues Player; but that hardly resolves the problem, since as a singer, Mr. Guy is also competent and convincing, yet not exceptional.

And even that is not the worst problem here. No, the worst is that for this record, Buddy chooses a varied selection of old classics typically associated with specific idols of the past — Skip James (ʽHard Time Killing Floorʼ), John Lee Hooker (ʽCrawling King Snakeʼ), Frankie Lee Sims (ʽLucy Mae Bluesʼ), Muddy Waters (ʽI Love The Life I Liveʼ), Son House (ʽLouise McGheeʼ), Lightnin' Hopkins (ʽBlack Cat Bluesʼ), and a few other, somewhat lesser names; and instead of offering the «Buddy Guy perspective» on all these guys, he pretty much tries to emulate every one of them. Excuse me, but this is just stupid — as if he were some kind of Shang Tsung-like sorcerer, having devoured all of their souls and exploiting them one at a time. He'd committed such errors before, plenty of times, but never, as of yet, had any of his records sounded like One Huge Error, stretched across fifty minutes' worth of wasted time.

It almost goes without saying that outside of context — that is, if you are not familiar with any of the originals — Blues Singer sounds quite nice. It's not as if Buddy showed no understanding of these tunes, or wasn't able to get a good grip on the melodies. It's even got a few enticing bonuses, like both B. B. King and Clapton offering guest solos on ʽCrawling King Snakeʼ (and it's not every day that you get to hear B. B. play acoustic guitar, either, though you can probably under­stand why upon witnessing his performance here). But why on Earth should one settle for an imitation of the real thing rather than the real thing itself? Unless your ears are completely insen­sitive for old mono production, crackles and pops, or unless you have made a vow never to listen to music that is more than 10 years old (in which case, as of 2016, this album is already obsolete as well), Skip James still does a better ʽHard Time Killing Floorʼ, because Skip James singing like Skip James... well, I dunno, sounds a little more authentic, for some reason, than Buddy Guy singing like Skip James.

The only reason why I do not think the album deserves a «thumbs down» in the end is that, on the whole, it shows good vibes and good will. Propagating the old classics is always worthwhile, and properly crediting the songs to their creators (or, at least, their classic interpreters) is a sign of honesty. Besides, an album that is competently performed, well produced, and consists of mostly good songs should not be called «bad» just because it is so utterly superfluous; and, after all, Buddy is one of the last surviving «original carriers» of the tradition, so at least it makes much more sense than if somebody like John Mayer came out with a record like this. However, it is also a sign that «being an original carrier» never guarantees top quality; and that being an old black bluesman from Louisiana does not automatically place you on the same level of spirituality and sensitivity as any other old black (dead) bluesman from Louisiana.

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