The latest album from Sonny Black and the Dukes has been a long time coming, but it has been well worth the wait. The band line up has changed since their last album ("Free Spirit"): Daniel Smith (piano) is replaced by the excellent Bob Haddrell, and Alan Glen (harp) has left. It makes no difference to Sonny Black who just keeps doing what he does best, i.e., playing some of the finest guitar, and writing some of the classiest blues around.
The album starts out on a real high, with "Through Heaven's Eyes," where the blues/jazz leanings of the band shine through. If the producers of "NYPD Blue" are ever looking for a new theme tune, they should take a listen to this one, which ranks right up there alongside Larry Carlton's best. The band then slip into a bluesier vein as they romp through "Checkin' In" where Sonny adding some nice touches on slide guitar, before taking things down low and slow for "Blues Walkin' By My Side." Sonny sings this one in a dusky voice--shades of Mark Knopfler, Tom Waits and Steve Forbert--which works very effectively.
The band always manage to strike the right balance between blues and jazz. The jazzy, lighthearted "If I Ever Get To Heaven," where Bob Haddrell makes a great job of the vocals, for example, is seamlessly followed by the Piedmont stylings of "Raggin' The Strings," where Sonny shows that he can fingerpick with the best of them. Then, they slide right back again for the jazziest tune here, "Grant's Groove," featuring some fine sax from guests Andy Hamilton (tenor) and Mark Ramsden (soprano).
Although every track here is a gem in its own right, the classy "Blues Is King" edges out the rest of them. This is late night blues at its very best, and the balance between Sonny, Bob and Andy Hamilton is close to perfection, with the rhythm section of George Pearson (bass) and Dino Coccia providing a solid foundation. Some of the guitar licks suggest that the King in question is B.B., and I am sure the great man would approve.
The album closes out in grand style with "Kelly's Blues," where Sonny shows once more that he is a master craftsman on acoustic guitar too. There is a real mellow feel to this one that makes you want to heave a sigh at the end of it, just before reaching out to hit the play button again.
"Heart and Soul" has very quickly elevated itself to my list of top three albums of 2000. Anyone who likes their blues with an element of jazz about it will love it too. This is blues played with real feeling, by one of the best British bands currently on the go. Log onto the Bluetrack Records web site (www.bluetrackrecords.com) and buy it; you will not be disappointed.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Gordon Baxter, 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.
Click button to join
our mailing list!