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Monday, March 7, 2016

Buddy Guy: Born To Play Guitar


1) Born To Play Guitar; 2) Wear You Out; 3) Back Up Mama; 4) Too Late; 5) Whiskey, Beer & Wine; 6) Kiss Me Quick; 7) Crying Out Of One Eye; 8) (Baby) You Got What It Takes; 9) Turn Me Wild; 10) Crazy World; 11) Smarter Than I Was; 12) Thick Like Mississippi Mud; 13) Flesh & Bone; 14) Come Back Muddy.

I suppose that's Buddy playing his guitar with his teeth on the sleeve photo out there, but for what it's worth, one might also get the impression that he just keeled over his instrument and fell asleep in the middle of the session or concert. Perhaps it works both ways; in any case, I wouldn't call the photo particularly appropriate or inspiring, and the same judgement applies, more or less, to the entire album.

Here's how it starts: "I was bo-o-o-orn in Louisiana..." (how many times does he have to remind us?), followed by a standard introductory blues lick. The rest of the track explains how the very fact of his being born in Louisiana made it imminent and inavoidable that he would, in fact, be born to play guitar, along with some nice, quiet samples of said guitar playing. "A polka dot guitar will be resting (rusting?) on my grave". Sounds pretty convincing. The only problem is, how many of us still remain to be convinced? At least ʻLiving Proofʼ kicked ass, volume-wise; ʻBorn To Play Guitarʼ just says it, rather than screams it. And this applies to the album in gene­ral: there are very few, if any, outstanding guitar parts (one interesting exception are the wah-wah parts in ʻCrazy Worldʼ and ʻTurn Me Wildʼ, but they're kind of buried right in the middle of a long series of by-the-book 12 bar playing).

Later on down the line, you get ʻWear You Outʼ, a fun collaboration with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top — and indeed, the song does sound a little ZZ Top-ish; the partnership is quite natural, too, considering how Buddy likes to rough it up every once in a while (more natural, in fact, than the Santana duet on Living Proof). The other guest appearances are not as successful — Kim Wilson plays Sonny Boy Williamson-style harmonica on ʻToo Lateʼ and ʻKiss Me Quickʼ (Sonny Boy played it better anyway); Joss Stone shares lead vocals on ʻYou Got What It Takesʼ (could have invited, oh, I dunno, Sheryl Crow with the same results); and Van Morrison is drafted to sing ʻFlesh & Boneʼ, a soul number dedicated to the memory of B. B. King — inevitably touching, yes, but still way too perfunctory. Neither Van, nor Buddy's guitar, nor the gospel backups manage to rise to any ecstatic heights here... although, who knows, in a hundred years from now people might look back on this fusion of great vocal and instrumental talent in their waning years and melt away in admiration.

Overall, there are no real highlights here, although at least there are no serious lowlights, either: best of all, there's no sign of Keith Urban or Kid Rock, and this is why this album gets no thumbs down from me. The guest stars are respectable, the songs try to be a tiny bit original, and Buddy Guy has never stopped being good, and I will personally defend his right to come out with a new album every two years: if ʻBorn To Play Guitarʼ and ʻCome Back Muddyʼ will be followed by ʻGuitar Playing Is My Businessʼ and ʻI Said Come Back, Muddy!ʼ in 2017, to me this will only signify that Buddy is still alive and well, and it will be nice to know that in an age when heroes are dropping around like flies. So you might even buy this thing to let the man know we still love him. You don't really have to listen to it. Just admire the karma.

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