Saturday, 6 April 2013

Chuck Leavell: Back To The Woods

Back To The Woods
Chuck Leavell
Chuck Leavell will probably best known to most readers as the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones, a post he has held since 1982. He takes centre stage on this new album, which is a stripped-down tribute to blues piano players including Leroy Carr, Little Brother Montgomery and Otis Spann.

The aim of the album is clear: ''It was important to me [to do] this project to expose the piano as an important instrument in blues history.''

Track List
  1. No Special Rider
  2. Evening Train
  3. Wish Me Well
  4. Low Down Dirty Dog
  5. Losing Hand
  6. Naptown Blues
  7. Back To The Woods
  8. I Got to Go Blues
  9. Boots and Shoes
  10. Mean Mistreater
  11. Southern Casey Jones
  12. If You Haven't Any Hay
  13. Memphis Town
  14. The Blues Is All Wrong
  15. Vicksburg Blues

The detailed sleeve notes, written by Leavell and Larry Cohn, provide a potted history of the role of the piano from the 1880s, when ''most American families, rural as well as urban, had a piano in their homes and churches. Widespread availability of the guitar had yet to arrive.'' There's also a section offering biographical notes on some of the finest blues pianists, whose songs are covered on the album.

The core band is a trio, with Leavell (piano, organ, and tailor-made blues lead vocals) joined by Chris Enghauser (stand-up bass) and Louis Romanos (drums, Cajon). Special guest stars pepper the album and they include Keith Richards and John Mayer.

The songs cover various differently paced slices of blues, from fast (Wish Me Well - driven by John Mayer's excellent guitar) to slower, Gospel-tinged numbers (Back to the Woods).

In some cases, the story behind the songs are just as interesting. Southern Casey Jones was written by Jesse James (it's not even clear if that was his real name), who recorded four sides for Decca back in 1936. Only two were ever released and James was never heard of - or from - again. It is good to see such songs rescued from historical oblivion. Doubtless there are hundreds of others buried in the archives, just waiting to be rediscovered.

The playing is exemplary throughout. The piano shines particularly brightly, but not so much it doesn't allow the others to breathe.

Stand out tracks: Evening Train, Wish Me Well, Boots and Shoes.

Further details are available over at the official Chuck Leavell website.

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