John Scofield ‘Piety Street’ (Emarcy/Universal) 4/5

john-scofieldThis is a new avenue for John Scofield on his latest project, a tribute to the gospel songs he has listened to for many years that takes in the compositions of the Reverend Jems Cleveleand, Thomas Dorsey and even country great Hank Williams. However, it is given a gritty blues feel and one with a distinctive New Orleans sensitivity, being recorded in the Crescent city with some of its finest studio musicians. While a vocal-led album, there is plenty of space for Scofield to solo and in parts this is reminiscent of Robert Cray while in others it reminds one of a Santana project. As such this will appeal to a wide audience beyond the confines of the guitarist’s faithful. Among the standout songs are a terrific version of ‘Motherless Child’ featuring the soulful vocals of Jon Cleary on which Scofield lets rip with a guitar solo, and which morphs into a catchy reggae beat two-thirds in. A churchy ambience is felt on ‘It’s a big army and Scofield obviously displays an empathy with the genre. As he explains in the reasoning for the project: ‘Gospel music is the fraternal twin to R & B and I’ve long been a huge fan so I decided to record some of the pieces I like best’. The gentler side to his playing is displayed on the Hank Williams ballad, ‘The Angel of Death’ and he stretches out on ‘His eyes on the sparrow’. All in all a coherent and well executed album which seamlessly moves from blues, funk to post-bop and reggae, and that would benefit greatly from live gigs to convey that spicy New Orleans beat.

Tim Stenhouse