Henry Cooper's is a name I've seen many a time in the major blues magazines. Neither of his previous outings are readily available here in the Great White North, so when offered the opportunity to review "Automatic Trouble" I jumped at the chance, if only to satisfy my curiosity.
Now I know three things; Henry's an exceptional guitarist, his band is uniformly good (if a tad short of excellent), and he oughta hire somebody else to sing.
Let's take 'em in order, starting with Henry's mastery of slide guitar. Normally I'd be inclined to say a little slide goes a long way; in lesser hands it often comes in only one flavour. Henry, though, manages to find enough unique and unexpected shadings to keep it interesting throughout. And his picking elsewhere is the equal of anyone's; he's neither particularly fast or fleet, but he finds the right notes and plays 'em with equal attention to tone and phrasing, with an obvious ear for detail. Best comparison I can come up with is Louisiana legend Tab Benoit, who exhibits much the same thick, meaty string-bending.
Henry's band - Ed Vance on B3, bassist Keith Lowe, and Dave Jette on drums - provide solid support. Not that they're challenged all that much, mind, as the playlist, all originals taken froom Henry's first two outings, stays well within standard grooves. But what they do they do quite well indeed, particularly Mr. Vance, who's given occasional opportunities to solo and acquits himself nicely.
Ah, but the vocals . . . given that Henry's been around for a while, surely he should know as well as anyone that they're not just weak but downright painful. If not, someone ought to tell him he'd do well to hire a singer. Ouch.
If there's another downside to this set it's in the pacing; up until track six, every song is mid-to-slow tempo, with no real peaks or valleys. (In fairness, the title track, last on the program, is also a "quickie"). A bit more variety would liven things up a bit.
Sound quality, for a live recording, is quite good, with an appealing sense of spacious airiness, though the usually mighty B3 comes across a bit thin, with an almost anemic quality, at times. Crowd noise is minimal, curious for a live recording but perhaps better for home enjoyment.
Summary? While it may sound as though I didn't care for Automatic Trouble, the truth is that, negatives notwithstanding, the end result is greater than the sum of its parts…while I can nitpick about this and that, I still quite like the disc. It's an enjoyable, if not essential, outing by a talented player. If Henry would just hire a vocalist for his next outing, I'd be first in line!
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