We didn’t get the chance to see Buddy Guy when he was in town recently for the latest offering of the Pittsburgh Blues Festival, but we did read about the controversy that ensued, with the festival organizer ending up offering a public apology for Guy’s foul language – which, in turn, prompted Buddy’s team to apologize on the six-time Grammy Award winner’s Facebook page just yesterday. There are of course many sides to this debate, with some arguing that the festival is a family event, while others tend to agree with Guy that most kids have probably already heard it all before. We’re not sure how anyone can book Buddy Guy nowadays without being aware of his penchant for dropping f-bombs, or maybe it’s just that we’ve seen him more times than most in recent years to realize that the question seems to be not so much if, but rather how much, Guy might cuss during any given performance. But the good news for parents and others concerned about the dirty four-letter words is that Guy’s new album Born to Play Guitar (Silvertone/RCA Records) provides no real worries in that regard (save for a “damn” here or there), although we should perhaps warn you that it does contain a $#!%load of our favorite five-letter word: blues.
Kicking off on the slow smoking blues of the title track, an instant classic in the vein of “Hoochie Coochie Man” that features some nice tinkling of the ivories from Kevin McKendree in addition to Guy’s passionate guitar and lyrics such as “I got a repa-tation, and everybody knows my name/ I was born to play the guitar/ people, I got blues runnin’ through my veins” and “I got six strings loaded on my bad machine/ show me the money, and I’ll make this damn thing scream/ I’m gonna’ keep on playin’/ and on my dyin’ day, a polka dot guitar will be restin’ on my grave”, the album consists of one veritable hit after another, moving, for example, to the gritty, quick-shuffling “Wear You Out” featuring ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons on both vocals and guitar, and then slowing back down with the cool, calculating “Back Up Mama”.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson guests on harmonica for two numbers: a swinging cover of Little Walter’s “Too Late” that you can really dance to (including the rather ironic line “Tired of all your fussin’ and I can’t stand your cussin’, I’m gone”) as well as the clever “Kiss Me Quick” on which Guy demonstrates the high range of his vocals each chorus. The album also features duets with sensuous soul singer Joss Stone on the strings-laced, uptempo jazz of “(Baby) You Got What It Takes” and Van Morrison on a soft, reflective “Flesh & Bone” dedicated to the late B.B. King that features Reese Wynans (Double Trouble) on B3 and grand piano and the McCrary Sisters on background vocals.
Fellow guitarist Doyle Bramhall II adds another layer of nice licks to songs like the greasy, libation-soaked “Whiskey, Beer & Wine”, a closing remembrance of Muddy Waters in “Come Back Muddy” (on which Bramhall plays 12-string acoustic guitar), and the creeping “Crying Out of One Eye”, perhaps the bluest of the songs here, combining lyrics like “When you tried to cry, to make me feel better/ I wish your little hanky could have been a little wetter/ You were staring at your shoes, you were looking awful sad / but I could see right through you, you wasn’t takin’ it that bad/ cuz’ when you said goodbye, you were only crying outta’ one eye” with horns from the Muscle Shoals Horns and Wurlitzer and B3 organ from Wynans, who also appears on the two other songs featuring Bramhall as well as the aforementioned “(Baby) You Got What It Takes” and a slow, insightful “Crazy World”.
In addition, you can hear Wynans on Wurlitzer, as well as Jimi Hendrix sideman Billy Cox on bass, on “Turn Me Wild”, with Guy delivering both some stinging guitar and terrific lyrics about how “the blues done turn me wild, it got deep inside my soul”, including such gems as “my mama had a broomstick beside the bed, let me tell ya’ it wasn’t for sweeping” and “you can’t pick how they remember you, you just hope someday they do/ but I still got more to say, people I ain’t, I ain’t, never through”. Songs like this one, the driving “Smarter Than I Was” with its distorted vocals, and a biting “Thick Like Mississippi Mud” that again features the Muscle Shoals Horns all serve as great reminders of how the now 79-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer can still ignite the same kind of fire as bluesmen several decades his junior like Tommy Castro and Tab Benoit. In fact, while there may be many guys and gals who can be said to have been born to play guitar, there’s still no one who can put on a performance quite like this Guy.
Like Buddy’s other recent albums, Born to Play Guitar is again produced by Tom Hambridge – who also played drums throughout the project and wrote or co-wrote most of the songs – and may very well be the best we’ve heard from Guy in at least a decade, making this one that blues fans will, well, swear by.