When an artist is on record labels like Ruf or Dixiefrog, then they usually warrant attention: when the said artist has collaborated with such talents as Eric Bibb and Ruthie Foster then you really should be taking notice. Big Daddy Wilson is the man in question and he has a fascinating tale that brought him to the blues. His early days weren’t easy:
“We were very poor but I had a very beautiful childhood. Me and my sisters were raised by Mom and Grandma. We lived a simple life, we went to church every Sunday, school on weekdays. I also worked back then on the tobacco plantation and in the cotton fields, I was a real country boy.”
He found himself in Germany after joining the army where he married and, perhaps uniquely, it was in Germany that he found the blues…this led to a string of undervalued releases (Love Is The Key, Thumb A Ride, I’m Your Man, Time and 2017’s Neck Bone Stew for example) and now this warm, soulful blues singer has a new album out. I’m uncertain as to how the ‘Big Daddy’ moniker came about, but Wilson Blount suits the appellation. Hard Time Blues is part autobiographical, part social commentary (and lessons to be learnt) and a modern, old fashioned blues journey. Backed by some formidable musicians and co-writers, he has delivered a twelve-song album (plus one ‘remix’) of quality blues.
The Eric Bibb and Glen Scott penned opener, Yazoo City, is proper blues: acoustic slide, harp a tale of hardship sung in a perfect way. A fabulous beginning. The city incidentally, is in Mississippi near Jackson on the banks of the river Yazoo…nothing to do with Alison Moyet!)
Next up is a track with lyrics from Psalm 23 (“The Lord’s My Shepherd”) blended with the starkness of urban life…The City Streets is clever and emotive. The backing is complex and rather good; the tom-toms (no relation!) seem strange at first but, as the electric guitars (especially the slide) begin to swirl around the vocals, it pulls together nicely. The title track is more of a soul song with electronic strings and processed vocals at first: it’s saved by the pure, warm vocals and exquisite slide phrases although the processing returns on the choruses. It jars a bit at first, but repeated listens reveals a depth and passion to match the lyrics.
Poor Black Children is a modern, very well-executed version of the field song…and as BDW actually worked the fields it has extra relevance and realism. It has echoes of the Brazos songs in a good way and some excellent guitars.
Meatballs sees Shaneeka Simon (who also contributed to Eric Bibb’s Born of a Woman release) takes joint vocal duties in a Beal Street bouncy romp that is just irresistible…food-related suggestions abound. He Cares For Me is, as the title suggests, a spiritual autobiographical song backed by a laid back, yet dramatic, backing of field rhythms and gospel choir with slide and organ neatly underlining it all. Dearly Beloved is a sad, but uplifting soulful song with the blues fed in via some very nice guitar phrases and some great soloing.
New Born changes to celebrate new life in folk-is fashion but with soul and blues not far away…folk from the acoustic, soul from the impassioned vocals and blues from the subtle guitars.
I Can’t Help But Love You is a celebration too and this time, I’m guessing, it’s addressed to his wife Helga. Sh’s rightly lauded in a pure soul, near pop song but with the added piquancy of a lovely guitar solo. A Letter is slide loveliness in traditional blues fashion as BDW rails against “Mr Man”: a pity this still needs to be said, but it is said very well indeed. Maybe It’s Time is more, very welcome, field/slide blues with a relevant message; once again this approach works so well and combines seamlessly the traditional with the bang up to date.
The penultimate track is Testimony; a soul song that will generate envy in many soul singers out there. OK, not blues enough for me (but I’m just too picky) because if you like immaculate soul this will certainly hit the spot…the bass line is strong, the piano sweet, the vocals errr, soulful and the short guitar solo makes it stand out even further. The last track is a “remix” of He Cares For Me…now normally remix is a remoulded truck tyre to me, and most remixes in music are just edited versions of little distinction. That’s not the case for BDW; this one is faster, skiffled and banjoed and is very different and can be listened to as a complete song and it’s a very welcome addition.
Big Daddy has proven once again that he has the voice and the compositional skills to genuinely bring something new to the blues table…albeit with a side serving of soul. This is a quality album of varied songs with impeccable backing from the band.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen; varied, skilled instrumentation and vocals with blues aplenty and some soul shining through on a couple of tracks.
The City Streets (Ps.23)
Hard Time Blues
Poor Black Children
He Cares For Me
I Can’t Help But Love You
Maybe It’s Time
He Cares For Me (Remix)
(All tracks by Wilson Blount and Glenvin Anthony Scott except Yazoo City by Eric Bibb/Scott, Meatballs by Blount/Scott/Cesare Nolli and A Letter by Blount/Mike Titre.
Wilson Blount: vocals
Glen Scott: drums, bass, keyboards, guitars, percussion, programming
Stefan Astner: guitars
Christer Lyssarides: slide guitar
Klaus Grossert: harp
Shaneeka Simon: lead vocals on Meatballs, backing vocals
Cesare Nolli: guitars, acoustic slide guitar, banjo
Mike Titre: guitars
(iTunes decided to regale me with countrified, picked guitar playing that defies description and has a title that defies logic: Big Jim Sullivan is a guitar genius and the song was If I Could Only Play Like That…illogical because he can damn well play!)