Big Daddy Wilson ‘Songs From The Road’ CD/DVD/DIG (Ruf) 4/5

If the recent Chicago soul-blues recordings of Mavis Staples and the timeless instrumental backing accompaniment appealed, then this live recording from Big Daddy Wilson may offer an equally entertaining and, in some respects, a slightly deeper insight into the history of the blues. Recorded in Switzerland in October, 2017, in the compact and atmospheric live setting of an arts centre, and with an excellent tight sounding all-Italian band, this is music from a seasoned musician who has been on the road for some twenty-five years and that well honed sound is testimony to both the leader’s knowledge base and experience. Although all but one of the songs are Wilson originals, the repertoire is in reality varied, encompassing distinctive stages in the development of blues music. An understated funky ditty is ‘Seven Years’, with some lovely keyboards from Enzo Messima, and this deeply soulful number is interesting in exploring the relationship that does indeed exist between blues and funk, and anyone who has listened carefully to 1960’s Chicago blues will hear that connection in the drum beats. Rhythm guitar and bass line from Cesare Nolli and Paolo Legramandi respectively are showcased on ‘Baby Don’t Like’, with fine collective harmony vocals. The music works best to these ears on the mid-tempo soulful side of Chicago blues ‘Drop Down Here’, being a fine example.

The one standard cover is a cool and downright funky reading of ‘John The Revelator’, and the exemplary delivery by Big Daddy makes this a fine way to open up proceedings on the DVD. It has a definite nod to the Mavis Staples retro sound, and when Wilson inquires ‘Are You Ready For Some Blues?’ to the audience, you know full well what the likely response will be ‘Yes’, when the music is as expertly performed as this. For an earthier form of the blues, the electric guitar solo and monologue on, ‘Cross Creek Road’, works a treat while the CD ends on a gentle acoustic note with ‘I Just Need A Smile’. Big Daddy Wilson has brought together disparate elements of the larger blues jigsaw and skillfully weaved them into his own tailored identity. One small caveat: the DVD starts off in black and white and looks much better in that format with a timeless quality before the rest is viewed in glossier colour. Otherwise, nearly two hours of music on the DVD with behind the scenes bonus, while the CD minus three tracks on the DVD weighs in at just under eighty minutes. Another fine release from Germany’s Ruf label.

Tim Stenhouse