Neal Black and Larry Garner ‘Guilty Saints’ (DixieFrog) 4/5

GUILTY-SAINTS-lettrage004cContemporary blues can be a linguistic nightmare for some with so many different and contrasting styles, but in the extremely capable hands of multi-guitarist and lead vocalist Neal Black and rhythm guitarist Larry Garner, this extremely varied album does a de facto A-Z of the sub genres of the idiom without the listener having to even break into a sweat. Both musicians hail form the southern States and have a fine grasp of the rootsier approach to the blues, with Black a Texan while Garner originates from that fine state of Louisiana, both states dripping wet in the blues heritage.
The album sub-divides into several styles, but it is in the amalgamation of genres where/that the music impresses most of all. This is exemplified on a wonderful number such as ‘Chances’ where country-folk blues and gospel interweave and maybe this is something the duo might want to explore in greater depth on subsequent albums. Soul-blues is another domain in which the pair excel and one can hear something of a Robert Cray influence on both the terrific ‘Back at it again’ and the opener, ‘God Today’, where the throaty delivery of Black conjurs up Greg Allman in his prime. In particular this reviewer enjoyed the rapport between Hammond organ and the catchy guitar licks.

If it is a raunchier blues-rock that you are searching for, then ‘Better Days’ is sure to fit the bill with some fine acoustic piano from Mike Lattrell while in a more reflective vein, ‘Bad things, good people’, features some deep vocalising from Black. Arguably the strongest track on the whole album is the heavy bassline intro plus electric guitar accompaniment to the mean and moody, ‘Do not stand at my grave’, with two male lead vocalists for good measure. Rounding off a fine cross-selection of the blues is the uptempo repeated Hammond and guitar licks oriented hues of ‘Guilty’ with a melody that linger long on the mind. Recorded in the south of France, the recording has a relaxed feel throughout and includes the participation of fine French blues musicians in accordionist Christophe Duvernet and drummer Jean-Michael Tallet. As ever with DixieFrog releases, excellent presentation with a gatefold sleeve and full lyrics inside.

Tim Stenhouse