BUDDY GUY: SWEET TEA (2001)
1) Done Got Old; 2) Baby Please Don't Leave Me; 3) Look What All You Got; 4) Stay All Night; 5) Tramp; 6) She Got The Devil In Her; 7) I Gotta Try You Girl; 8) Who's Been Fooling You; 9) It's A Jungle Out There.
I have no idea what the title is supposed to symbolize (was "sweet tea" the finest taste to be tasted by a young Buddy during his early Louisiana days?), but the album is indeed Buddy's finest in a long, long while. It continues the strange pattern of alternating a rougher-edged, more aggressive and inventive record with a softer, calmer, more commercial one — but there's something extra special here that was not seen either in Damn Right or in Slippin' In, the two real good 'uns. Perhaps it's his new band, now including Davey Faragher of Cracker on bass and Jimbo Mathus of Squirrel Nut Zippers on second guitar, that gives Sweet Tea its edge — at the very least, I can definitely vouch for Faragher as far as the bass goes, because this is the first time we have such a deep, echoey, rumbling bass sound on a Buddy Guy album, and I love it.
More generally, though, Sweet Tea sounds like it's out there to say something, not just to show the world that Buddy Guy is still playing the blues. The first track is a consciously laid trap — an acoustic moanin' blues, courtesy of the then-recently deceased Junior Kimbrough, on which Buddy laments that he "done got old" and that he can't look, walk, or love "like I used to do", in the general fashion of an old Negro spiritual. Of course, that's a ruse — already the second track, the lengthy, slow, threatening ʽBaby Please Don't Leave Meʼ shows that getting old sure don't prevent Mr. Guy from playing God of Thunder if he sets his heart to it. That great psychedelic distorted tone is back, and coupled with Faragher's doom-laden bass sound, it gets the old mojo workin' — the entire seven minutes seem like a voodooistic ritual performed by the man to ensure that his baby don't leave him. And who could, after such a performance?
A few tracks down the line, he tries to repeat the exact same ritual with the even longer, but less effective ʽI Gotta Try You Girlʼ — same bass, same tempo, same style of vocal incantation, but a little less fury and a little more plodding with the solos; also, in this modern age endless repetition of the lines "I gotta try you girl, we gotta make love baby, no matter what you say girl" could get you arrested in some parts of the country, but I guess this could probably never stop a real man like Mr. Guy. Still, for about five or six minutes the ceremony can be just as breathtaking as its shorter and angrier predecessor.
I am not going to launch into a detailed explanation of the other tunes, of course — suffice it to say that there are many more covers of the late Junior Kimbrough here, as well as some other blues pals of Buddy's (CeDell Davis, Lowell Fulson, etc.), and only one «original» (ʽIt's A Jungle Out Thereʼ, yet another bit of socially-conscious preaching on Buddy's part that sounds like an imagination-less sequel to ʽCities Need Helpʼ). The important thing are not the individual tunes, but the overall sound of the album — that bass, that echo, that renewed ferociousness on those sharply tuned guitars, well, it's not exactly a revolution, but it is the hugest and brutal-est update of the Buddy Guy sound ever since the underrated Breaking Out experiment in 1980. And, funniest of all, it is a huge f*ck-you to all those new generations of blues players. Who would be the very first blues musician to come out with a solid update of the blues idiom in the 21st century? A 65-year old native of Lettsworth, Louisiana, that's who. Now let us see you top this, Mr. John Mayer. Thumbs up.