Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio ‘Something Smells Funky ’round Here’ (Alligator) 4/5

If Chicago blues is your bag, then Elvin Bishop has been a constant presence and contributor to the Windy City blues scene for several decades. Originally born in California back in 1942, Elvin Bishop’s close relationship with Chicago began as far back as 1959 when he enrolled at the University of Chicago. He immediately found himself at the very heart of the Chicago blues scene, and soon became immersed in the music. After two years, Bishop dropped out of college life and was befriended by no less than Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokey’s Blues’, and was thus taught how to play the blues guitar. Bishop practiced day and night and eventually became proficient enough to join the Butterfield Blues Band. This gave him the necessary live performance experience in a multitude of settings, from university campuses, to clubs and individual’s homes. A tenure with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band led to regular work at Big John’s blues club on Chicago’s north side. Among a long and distinguished recording career, Elvin Bishop famously performed on the ‘Pigboy Crabshaw’ album, and though he left that band in 1968, he has been a sub-leader ever since.

This new recording with pianist Bob Welsh and on cajón and vocals, Willy Jordan, is a return to the gritty Chicago electric blues sound. That includes soulful material such as on the soul-blues delivery plus guitar riffs of, ‘Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher’, or the more laid back, ‘My Soul’, which is noteworthy for its spoken monologue plus piano accompaniment, depicting the different stages in a life, and a fine way to end the album. However, Elvin Bishop has a strong wider general knowledge of what the blues comprises and that is amply illustrated on the piano-led boogie woogie, ‘Bob’s Boogie’, while further variety is offered up on ‘Another Mule’, which is a fine, relaxed paced number. The best is reserved for a storming reworking of the Ann Peebles Hi records opus, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’, which is an ideal vehicle for a soul-blues rendition, and this features Welsh this time on Hammond organ, with some stabbing guitar riffs from the leader. So convincing is this interpretation that one wonders why Elvin Bishop does not devote an entire album to like-minded covers. Quality Chicago blues for folks who feel the blues deep down in their soul.

Tim Stenhouse