"Well I done got old/ Can't do the things I used to do/ 'cause I'm an old man," groans Buddy Guy in the opening breaths of his remarkable new album "Sweet Tea." Fortunately for blues lovers (but unfortunately for the women of Chicago...) Guy is not referring to his abilities as a bluesman. At nearly 65, the venerable Guy's musical talents are undiminished. "Sweet Tea," Buddy's fifth studio album in his contract with Silvertone, which has proved to be quite a boon for both parties, brings somewhat of a departure from the style of blues that has brought him such great success over the past decade. The new sound is somewhat of a paradox: old and raw yet sleek and modern, rural but urban. Buddy has combined the hypnotic rhythm riffs of a Junior Kimbrough or a John Lee Hooker and has overlaid it with powerful vocals and fiery solos that can best be described as Hendrixian, although we should remember it was Jimi who cited Buddy as a primary influence, not the other way around!
With drums that come marching in from the distance, a pounding bass line that crashes in abruptly, and an abrasive rhythm riff (played by Jim Mathus of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame), the seven and a half minute "Baby Please Don't Leave Me" demands the listener's full attention from its raucous opening bars. Buddy's passionate vocals, punctuated by that pulsating rhythm line, combine synergistically with his rousing fretwork to create a dynamite sound. The Lowell Fulson-penned "Tramp" opens with two blistering minutes of heavily distorted guitar, which might make some blues purists run for cover. Guy is at his hootin' and hollerin' best and, yes, he does toss out his quota of 'looky heres' and 'yeahs' during his dominating solos. "Tramp" expresses some different sentiments from the opening track "Done Got Old." Here Guy says, "Tramp/ you can call me that/ if it makes you feeeel good/ 'Cause I'm a lover/ lovin is what I was born to do." "Tramp" is followed by this reviewer's favorite cut, "She Got the Devil in Her." On "Sweet Tea," Guy departs somewhat from his shrieking style of vocals, which challenge the upper registers of his range and have become his trademark. The versatile Guy instead employs a deeper, sultrier approach. "She Got the Devil" also features a relentless blues solo that barges ahead with reckless abandon. "I Gotta Try You Girl" was penned by the late Junior Kimbrough, as are three more of the album's tracks. (It's a shame to think that Junior didn't START recording blues until he was nearly as old as Guy is now.) The twelve minute romp features the same type of mesmerizing groove that is present throughout the album, as well as a hint of the double-stringed soloing that Guy patented in the 60's with tracks such as "Leave My Girl Alone."
Over the years, Buddy Guy has shown that he can do it all. In his video "Live: The Real Deal," he mentioned that he feels that Muddy, Lightnin,' Guitar Slim, and Howlin' Wolf are looking down on him saying, "Here's this burden, now you gotta carry it." Buddy has held his end of the bargain nicely with this gem. His voice improves with age, and the distorted reverberations of his Strat that he could not convince Chess Records to record in the 60's are now the heart and soul of his cutting-edge sound. If there is any criticism I have to offer of this exceptional album, it is that Buddy only wrote one of its nine songs. However, his sound is brilliant, and isn't that why we listen to music?
This review is copyright © 2001 by Preston Ackerman, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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