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

I have had this album on rotation for the past week and it’s well and truly embedded now. Think Sugar Ray Rayford and you’re not far off the mark, with a voice that carries uncanny Jimmy James nuances. The album is very a black, bluesy, funky and soulful affair with elements of southern country too. Born Wilson Blount in North Carolina, a very accomplished guitarist, showing us his prowess on several solos, which remind me of the great Joe Louis Walker, but none are so intrusive as to alienate any casual listener, and he’s a brilliant story teller too. The band are as tight as they come, which you would expect having been on the road for some 25yrs. Kicking off with a superb dancer in “7 Years”, in which he tells us he was born on the bottom and that he’s never seen the top, and then straight into one of the album highlights, “Aint No Slave”, if you’re white, know your history and keep abreast of current developments i.e. Trump and Corbin and the current entrepreneurs of all things racist then this is a very uncomfortable listen, so powerful, straight to the point, very dark. “Baby Don’t Like” is an urgent percussive dancer with a constant nagging guitar and thumping bass, the rhythm really does get into your head. The track that really took me by surprise is “Neckbone Stew”, which starts off very slow and acoustic with just our man and his guitar, but then it hits big, with tight reggae rhythm reminiscent of what The Wailers laid down for Bob Marley – my god this is good, very good – and sounding at ease with this genre. And yet another high for me is the scintillating balladry of “I Just Need A Smile”, I really have hammered this, very simple musically which puts our man out front without any distractions, simply beautiful, even when his guitar takes front stage. This album was recorded live at The Village Rubigen in central Switzerland. For me this is an essential album and then some, for the rest of you I’ll wager you find tracks you’ll like. We really do need vinyl on this asap, Mr. Wilson.

Brian Goucher