We liked the Forrest McDonald Band‘s earlier album Turnaround Blues so much that we wondered if we’d ever hear another one quite that good from them. Not that the band’s 2017 follow-up album Stand My Ground was anything to sneeze at: spotlighting the powerful vocal work of Becky Wright, the album was indeed a solid one and very much worth checking out, even if it didn’t attain quite the same level of impressiveness as that previous release.
Now a few years later comes along McDonald — who, you may recall, spent part of his career playing guitar for the likes of Bobby Womack, Bonnie Bramlett, and the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, including having contributed that instantly recognizable guitar work on Bob Seger’s hit “Old Time Rock and Roll” — and his band as strong as (if not perhaps stronger than) ever with their latest recording Blues in a Bucket (World Talent Records).
Wright makes a fine return appearance, guesting on vocals for two tracks, the gritty, slithering “Powerhouse” and the closing “Let the Love in Your Heart”, an upbeat catchy duet that sounds like it could have come straight out of a Disney movie or parade. But most of the vocals this time around are handled by the immensely talented Andrew Black, who we also heard a bit from on Turnaround Blues and whose dynamic range of R&B/soul stylings is in a rare league with such names as the late Michael Ledbetter, Ty Taylor of Vintage Trouble, and Brian Templeton of The Proven Ones.
Although all originals, some of the 11 tracks here are ones that can also be heard on various earlier albums from McDonald. That doesn’t, however, make the latest versions of these tracks any less terrific, with the album starting off, for example, on a funky, Cyril Neville-sounding New Orleans-flavored “Boogie Me Till I Drop” and the band also revisiting a kicking “Going Back to Memphis” (as its lyrics referencing the Handy Awards — the original name for the Blues Music Awards — might give away to a careful listener) later in the program.
The slow-dragging power ballad “Hard to Lose” and a simply gut-wrenching “Blues in the Basement” that Black manages to take to a whole new level of low with his rich range of vocals are other tracks that might seem familiar to longtime fans of McDonald’s band from previous recordings (14 of them!), while the gospelish “Go to the Light” and marching “Blue Morning Sun” are new songs inspired by the early-2019 death of McDonald’s brother Steve, to whom, along with anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer, the album is also dedicated.
The steady-rocking title track and two deep, slow numbers — “Windy City Blues” and “Misery and Blues”, both with a bit of a Claptonesque sound vocally and musically — round out the album, which is of course filled with superb playing from McDonald and the rest of the band, especially Matthew Wauchope and Tony Carey on keyboards, buoyed by horns and backing vocals on several songs.
Though the album and its track titles have “blues” written all over them, these guys prove quite capable of laying down some real rockers when they want, with several of the songs displaying shades of Lenny Kravitz or Living Colour’s Vernon Reid in addition to bluesmen like Bernard Allison and others mentioned above.
Put all together, these elements make for an album that’s guaranteed to fill many blues fans’ buckets!