Georgia born Frank Bey, encouraged by his mother Maggie Jordan, (a gospel singer of some note) started performing when he was four in the gospel group known as the Rising Sons. At seventeen, he got a job with Otis Redding’s retinue and during his time there he got a ‘lucky break’ after the scheduled opening act didn’t turn up, Bey was asked to perform in their stead. After touring for several years with Redding, he formed his own funk-based band called the Moorish Vanguard; it all fell apart due to the machinations of the record company and, disillusioned, Bey left the music business for seventeen years.
He moved to San Francisco and teamed up with Anthony Paule and together they produced three critically acclaimed records and, as a result, Bey earned numerous Blues Music Award nominations…all of which recognised his soulful approach to the blues. He has a new album out, his sixth, aptly called Back In Business and this time he has the considerable talent of Tom Hambridge behind him as writer, producer and player and the lynchpin behind the whole project. (Hambridge has been involved with a myriad of blues royalty as well as releasing quality work under his own name). As Bey says at the start of the title track, “I’ve been gone for a while but I’m back in business now”; this is true in every sense as, despite the 72-year-old suffering from a failing kidney, he has recorded this album and is in the middle of crowdfunding a documentary film of his life (via Kickstarter, if you’re interested).
Returning to that opening track, Back In Business, and after Bey’s spoken intro, a Chicago style shuffle kicks in and then we get to hear his remarkable voice as it weaves around the backing with a tone that is a natural blend of soul and the blues. The guitar playing from McNelly throughout the album is simply superb as it takes on exactly the right tone for the style of the individual song, as evidenced by the solo here. An injection of funk on Gun-Toting Preacher as the bass riffs over the voice, guitar and horns. Bey manages to sound a little Tom Jones like (or is it the other way round?) as he tells the tale of an influential if slightly dodgy preacher. Soul over a blues pattern heralds Take It Back To Georgia, with warm keyboards over a really clever bass, drum and guitar backing. Bey really shows his class here as that strong, yet emotion-filled voice wrings the neck of the melody and sends shivers down the spine. More funk on the cover of Cookie Jar as the rather spicy lyrics bring a smile to your face, as the blues unending capacity for the double entendre is wickedly demonstrated. The almost out of tune guitar is genius, thanks to the tone from the speakers as McNelly utilises the ‘ice-pick guitar’ sound to great effect. The pace slows on The Half Of It as Bey delivers a smouldering R’n’B ballad that may explore the standard tropes but still brings something new to the style. The Sam McClain cover, Where You Been So Long starts with just the guitar and voice that draws you in, before the band cut in with perfectly judged weight. A quality strewn piano solo adds to the complex simplicity of this classic track. Don’t relax too much…the next track, Better Look Out, is a jump blues with a lump of swing for good measure with more brilliant piano that gets you dancing, even if you’re sat down. Another exquisite guitar solo makes this irresistible. Ain’t No Reason is a really surprising change of tack as the piano begins and takes us into a pop song…and by that I mean a pop song of the 60s or 70s. That is not to say it is a bad song…just that it pales a little next to all of the other songs. Fear not, because with Blame Mother Nature we are back in blues and R’n’B territory with this love song and the ‘blame’ is because Mother Nature is guilty only of ‘making me love you’. The voice, the guitar solo and ingenious backing lifts this from any mawkishness that could have proliferated in anyone else’s hands. The power of the blues is the story behind Give It To Get It and this funky blues interpretation is just brilliant. Listen to the lyrics too; there are some ingenious word plays to be found. A slow blues of power and passion; Yesterday’s Dreams is a classy way to close a class album and it is all summed perfectly with Bey’s line at the end; “The blues is my life today” sung in such a way that I believe him…you will too.
This is a high quality blues/soul album featuring a powerful and emotive vocalist with a range and depth that belies his 72 years. Add to that the genius of Hambridge as he has assembled a group of musicians who all perform with aplomb and leave Bey space to shine whilst contributing stunning solos when required. Apart from the, in my opinion, slight misstep of Ain’t No Reason, this is a strong album and will fit perfectly into anyone’s blues collection…no reason for this one to be held at bey!
NINEdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Back in Business
- Gun Toting Preacher
- Take It Back to Georgia
- Cookie Jar (Jeff Monjack/Kevin Freison)
- The Half of it
- Where You Been So Long (Kevin Barry/Mighty Sam McClain)
- Better Look Out
- Ain’t No Reason (Monjack/Freison)
- Blame Mother Nature
- Give It to Get It (Monjack)
- Yesterday’s Dreams (Freison)
Composed by Tom Hambridge and Richard Fleming except where stated.
Frank Bey: vocals
Tom Hambridge: drums and background vocals
Rob McNelly: guitars
Marty Sammon: keyboards
Tommy MacDonald: bass
Adam Nitti: bass
Max Abrams: saxophone
Wendy Moten: backing vocals