Sam Butler ‘Raise Your Hands!’ (Severn) 3/5

sam-butlerFormer guitarist of blues-gospel formation the Blind Boys of Alabama, Sam Butler has been solicited for his musical services by some of the greats and these include Keith Richards and Donald Fagen. This debut solo album release marks something of a departure for the singer-guitarist, and while the inspiration is gospel-inspired songs, the delivery is very much blues-rock with a gentle soulful touch in parts. For this writer the balance weights slightly too heavily on the rock side and not sufficiently on the soulful grooves. Nevertheless, Sam Butler is a seasoned musician who has judiciously trawled the repertoire of some of rock music’s most accomplished songwriters. The music works best when it is intimate and pared down and on Tom Waits’ ‘Gospel train’, it is Butler’s soulful voice that comes to the fore, and that is all too infrequent on this recording. Best of all is the gorgeous soul-blues of ‘Wherever you headeth’, a lesser known song from Curtis Mayfield from his earlier Impressions tenure and Sam Butler’s voice is ideally suited to this kind of material and displays great subtlety in his use of guitar. He really should seriously consider devoting an entire project to his soul influences and that would make for a special album indeed. Elsewhere, the album reads like a contemporary blues-rock update on the age-old gospel tradition and on Van Morrison’s ‘Full force gale’, Butler lays down a stomping electric guitar rendition. The guitar can get in the way of the melodicism as on ‘Heaven’s will. Equally, however, it can transform evergreen tunes such as Johnny Cash’s, ‘Lead me father’, which under Butler’s tutelage becomes a psychedelic blues with the guitar in full control. If you like your gospel-blues on the dark side of town, then this album may be for you. A mixed bag from a stylistic perspective, but soul and rock flavours do come together in harmony on a song such as, ‘Presence of the Lord’, that both Eric Clapton and Blind Faith have recorded.

Tim Stenhouse