Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jeff Golub Plays the Blues

Jeff Golub
Blues for You
E1 Music

Most guitar players claim to have an affinity for the blues, but it does not always show in their music. Though known primarily as a star in the so-called “smooth-jazz” genre, Jeff Golub has always been inspired by the three kings—the legendary bluesmen B.B., Albert, and Freddie. Now the guitarist amply proves his blues street cred with a legitimately greasy album of electric blues simply titled Blues for You.

BFY is a departure album for Golub in many ways. Not only is it his first blues (and blues-rock) CD, it is also his first session as a leader featuring vocal tracks, laid-down by four well known rock and pop artists. Golub starts off by digging into the soul jazz bag with the high energy “Shuffleboard,” sounding particularly funky thanks to the guest appearance of the tune’s co-writer Chris Palmaro on the Hammond B3 organ.

Golub then takes things in a blues-rock direction, with a vocal assist from Peter Wolf, formerly of the J. Geils Band, that totally evokes the right juke joint spirit. The following “Goin’ On” brings in special instrumental guest Kirk Whalum, a tenor player also tagged with “smooth” label, to blow some bluesy soul jazz for a change. Billy Squier, Golub’s next vocal guest, offered the guitarist his first steady gig in the music business. Now, in addition to singing lead vocals on “Everybody Wants You” (a song he is well acquainted with) he also backs up Golub musically, playing rhythm guitar on the ruckus blues-rock track.

Inspired by his six year-old son, Golub’s original “Blink of an Eye” might be the one track that gets “lite” FM radio play. While perhaps “smooth” in some respects, Golub’s pleasing melody and heartfelt playing give it considerably more character than most workaday easy listening instrumentals.

For the remaining vocal tracks, Golub twice dips into the repertoire of Mose Allsion, the idiosyncratic jazz pianist-vocalist. Marc Cohn is surprisingly effective channeling Allsion’s laconic phrasing on “I Don’t Worry About a Thing.” However, John Waite does not seem comfortable with the blues on “Lost Mind,” a Percy Mayfield tune familiar to many jazz listeners through Allison’s cover.

Following the easy-going original “Gone Fishin,’” Golub continues both the down home vibe and fish motif with Freddie King’s “Fish Fare.” BFY closes out with another King cover, Albert King’s blues anthem, “I’ll Play the Blues for You,” an effective vehicle for some of Golub’s most dramatic playing, augmented by horns and Marc Cohn’s brief vocal refrain. Those who buy BFY through itunes or in Japan will also receive the “bonus” track “Easy-E,” a pleasantly groovy blues-funk tune co-written by Golub and Jeff Lorber (also featured on keyboards).

Regardless of their opinion of “smooth-jazz,” nobody ever said Golub lacked skills. With BFY he convincingly demonstrates his blues chops, creating music that could be described at times as electric blues, blues-rock, soul jazz, and instrumental R&B, but not “smooth-jazz,” which is ironic since that is where most stores will shelve it. There is nothing not to “get” in BFY. It is a fun session that delivers various shades of the blues with energy and respect for the tradition.