Guitarist Rico McFarland has certainly paid his dues. When he was 11 he started a regular gig with Kansas City Red's band, taking breaks as-mandated-by-law on the bandstand, he wasn't allowed to mingle in the club. By 16 he'd begun a five year stint with Little Milton, followed by, dig this: 7 months with Albert King, a year with Otis Clay, 2 years with Syl Johnson, a year with the Kinsey Report, 3 (!) years with Sugar Blue, 3 years Valerie Wellington, 6 months with Mighty Joe White, and five long years with James Cotton. Not to mention studio work with many more.
Here, on his first solo album, McFarland calls on former bosses and allies to help fill out his recipe for soul-funk-blues; an occasional horn section over a basic four-piece. McFarland wrote 3 of the 12 tunes, "Bad Attitude" is a funk number--"either you or your attitude has to go" while the title track is a mostly generic lament/lure. He sings lead on 7 numbers while giving the others to guests like Syl Johnson (Al Green's "It Ain't No Fun To Me" and dueting on "Giving Me The Blues"). Soul belter Otis Clay does the Joan Osborne hit "What If God Were One Of Us" (with the lyric "like a slob on the bus" changed to "like a slave" here).
It's not unusual for an average singer to share out vocal chores--but what is rare is for an accomplished guitar player to give away lead duties. McFarland does just that on "God", where Chico Banks turns in a burbling wah-wah lead line that makes your ears perk up. Carl Weathersby takes lead on "Blues Falling Down Like Rain"--the rest of the tunes feature McFarland who has a journeyman accomplished cross-genre sound. Harpist Billy Branch turns up on a couple, singing lead on "Made Up My Mind". A minor key instrumental, "Johnny B." features McFarland and former employer Sugar Blue trading off choruses, finally intertwining at the end, as guitar and harp interweave nicely in a surprisingly ego-free effort. Blues chops are as amazing as usual, here and on a wistful "The Other One" he displays nice restraint, serving the song with some tough licks that showcase the music more than the macho strut.
Altogether, a varied album with some instrumental highspots--more R&B funk than blues, with some solid ensemble playing. McFarland is ready to take over the bandleader spot for sure.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tony Glover, 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.