Buddy Guy‘s never been the type to stress over formalities some 50 odd years into his career, so for him to title his latest double-album something as vague as Rhythm & Blues comes as no surprise. Unfortunately for him it’s a level of ambiguity that is indicative of the album’s shortcomings.
Rhythm and Blues is yet another autobiographical yawner – a valiant yet fleeting attempt to capture six decades of a legendary career. He’s a skilled oracle, but not Moses. He can’t go up on a mountain top and come back down with two slabs of life-changing doctrine just like that.
When I first heard Muddy Waters
I knew I was Chicago bound
Started playing on the South Side
And this is what I found
So right off the bat there’s an iron blanket of nostalgia. Just as directionless as the title – a droplet in an ocean. He’s establishing a rock solid base, but for an all too familiar story.
To combat stagnation Guy teams back up with producer Tom Hambridge to lively up the sound, which in the end is also a bad idea. Replacing the grit – the lifeblood of the blues – in favor of a more polished product is a cheap way to cover up redundancy.
Having Kid Rock as a featured guest on “Messin’ With The Kid” is a good example of how that forced effort can come off as gimmicky. It’s shameful hearing him try and recreate the rawness of Junior Wells – an attempt that sounds more American Idol than respectful homage: [LISTEN]
The Kid’s no child, and I don’t play
I says what I mean and I mean what I say
Oh yeah yeah yeah
Look at what you did
What is notable is the ease in which Buddy can still blend genres. Those dots help connect the Rhythm portion of the album to the Blues.
On “I Go by Feel,” Guy makes a bold stand, riffing over leaky organs and crispy breaks with a sharp, accurate pick. The backing vocals are a bit campy, but it does manage well against Buddy’s deep wailing. It gives him a chance to framework his surprisingly simple formula for success:
Sometimes it seems like a mystery
I just go by and it comes to me
It’s something i don’t even understand
I just open my heart and it flows right through my hand
As a follow up to his Grammy Award winning album Living Proof, Buddy Guy isn’t necessarily coming up with his best stuff. That’s unheard of even for superstars half his age.
What Guy is doing is checking back in to let the world know that he’s not going anywhere. But it’s for that reason the album falters. He’s a fixture, which means he’s had little reason to change his lyrical base. He still loves his mother, he’s a historian of the blues, and him and his guitar are inseparable. The world knows that already, and it’s what we’ve come to expect.
In other words nothing new here – just the same old Buddy. Which in the end is precisely why a project like this will go unnoticed among his other classic works:
I been on the road since the age of 15
Ain’t nothing out there I ain’t never seen
I keep moving on from town to town
I’m never going to put my damn guitar down