With mentors like Memphis Slim and Muddy Waters and contemporaries like B.B. King all having moved on to a better place, blues legend Buddy Guy is fully aware of the role he plays in music today, having been charged by some of those very same individuals with the weighty task of helping to carry on the blues in their stead. And that’s exactly what Guy continues to do — probably better than anyone else in the business right now — on his new album The Blues is Alive and Well (Silvertone/RCA Records).
Sometimes reflective, like on the slow, brooding opener “A Few Good Years”, the “Catfish Blues”-ish “Somebody Up There”, and the swaying, horn-drenched “End of the Line”; sometimes fun, like on a “Cognac” that also features guitarists Keith Richards and Jeff Beck to make for a smooth, slow-burning blues party of sorts on which Guy remembers another good friend with the lyrics “If the late Muddy Waters was here drinking with us, that bottle would be ten times gone”, then interjecting “can’t drink with me no more, Muddy, but I, I got Keith Richards”, and a Sly & the Family Stone-like “Whiskey for Sale” that’s, as Buddy likes to say, “so funky, you can smell it” (or, in this case, taste it) with backing vocals from the McCrary Sisters and Hambridge’s daughter Rachel, slide guitar, B3 and clavinet, with Guy at the end asking “Don’t that make ya’ feel good now?” (it sure does, Buddy, thanks); and sometimes just straight-up blues, like on the scorching cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Nine Below Zero”, the shuffling, partly falsetto-chorused “Guilty as Charged”, and a cautionary “Bad Day”, the album is everything you’d hope for from the soon-to-be-82-year-old Guy, showing that he’s still got his stuff both instrumentally and vocally, from the hard, biting blues for which we’ve long admired him (check out, for example, “Old Fashioned”, another number that incorporates some nice playing from the Muscle Shoals Horns) to slower-tempoed collaborations with the likes of longtime friend Mick Jagger (who contributes harmonica and a single “yeah” on the creeping “You Did the Crime”) and UK singer James Bay (who joins Buddy on both guitar and vocals for “Blue No More”).
Produced by longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge, who also had a hand in the co-writing of all of the original songs, including “Cognac” and “Old Fashioned” with Guy, and played drums on the project, the album also includes the soulful, horns-laced title track with its chorus of “As long as I’m breathing, and my heart’s still beating, I got my story to tell; I know the blues is alive and well”; a haunting, quiet “hear my train comin'”-kind-of-song in “When My Day Comes”; the gritty, feel-good country rocking “Ooh Daddy”; and the brief, closing “Milking Muther for Ya” that fans who have had the pleasure of seeing Guy perform in recent decades will most likely remember from his show, Guy’s only solo performance here, joined on the remainder of the album by a solid core band of Hambridge, Rob McNelley on rhythm guitar, Kevin McKendree on B3, upright piano, and Wurlitzer, and Willie Weeks on bass.
Guy’s 18th solo album, The Blues is Alive and Well finds the seven-time GRAMMY Award winner (including a 2016 Best Blues Album nod for his Born to Play Guitar) and GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award recipient showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, judging by both the lyrics and playing of such songs as “End of the Line”, on which Guy sings “even though I got one foot in the grave, I won’t be quiet and I won’t behave, no (I ain’t even thinkin’ of bein’have)… So many of my friends have gone, maybe my time ain’t long/ I promise ’til the day I die, I’m gonna’ keep these blues alive”. Guy does express some concern regarding the future of the genre on the final phrase of that chorus (“but I feel sometimes like I’m the end of the line”), but we think it’s safe to say the blues will continue to carry on after him having heard some of the other recent releases about which we’ve either already told you or hope to tell you soon, including, for example, the latest albums from Danielle Nicole, Bob Corritore and friends, and Lurrie Bell, to name just a few.
Guy is already slated to receive another Lifetime Achievement Award, this one from the Americana Music Association, in Nashville this fall, and you can probably also count on there being another cartful of awards for him for The Blues is Alive and Well.