Asked to name the instruments most often associated with the blues - the tools of the trade, so to speak - just about everyone would come up with guitar and the almost ubiquitous harmonica.
Few, I would guess, would come up with lap steel . . .
With "A Good Day To Play The Blues," his second outing on Canada's Stony Plain Records, Sonny Rhodes will convert any who question that instrument's legitimacy within the accepted blues arsenal. In Sonny's hands it adds a compelling sound not far from conventional slide but with a somewhat more "liquidy" tone.
Sonny also plays lead guitar of the usual sort. Add gruff vocals that bespeak a lifetime of experience both good and bad, and it all adds up to one of the most surprising and enjoyable discs in a long time.
This is Sonny's show, and it's his personality that shines through everything here. Simply put, he's a character in the best sense of the word. Case in point - the title song, in which Sonny narrates the story of a van fire that destroyed all of his equipment in a single stroke, an event that might well crush a lesser spirit. Sonny's take? An undeterred and defiant "Good Day to Sing And Play the Blues," wherein he finds reason to give thanks. We could all learn a thing or two from such a generous soul.
Sonny shares writing credits with the disc's producer, Bob Greenlee, each contributing a handful and co-authoring three. The songs avoid stylistic traps, with a refreshing diversity that includes ventures into calypso for "Driving Two Ways On A One Way Street," southern soul (Love And Harmony"), and funk ("Win-Win Situation"), while the jaunty "Ten Pounds Of Love (In A Five Pound Sack)" is an irresistible piece of pure pop. Purists needn't fear, however, as shuffles and slow grinders round out the playlist.
Mr. Greenlee also plays both bass and acoustic guitar, augmented by Sonny's regular band and crack session players from the King Snake Records family; he's responsible as well for the rather unfortunate production values, typical of the King Snake sound. To my ears it's much too thin, with the kind of sheen that gives even real instruments a strangely synthesized sound, as on the forgettable "I Bleed Blue." Songs that might have worked with a bit more punch - "If The Blues Fits, Wear It," for example - sound rather lame and uninspired.
Still, the sheer force of Sonny's personality overcomes any production deficiencies. In a world of generically indistinct recordings, each spin of "Good Day To Play The Blues" leaves one with the feeling of having spent some eminently worthwhile time with an irascible yet likeable character.
Not essential, perhaps, but better than most.
Stony Plain Records
P.O. Box 861, Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T5J 2L8
Phone : 780-468-6423
Fax : 78o-465-8941
Web : www.stonyplainrecords.com
E-Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, 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.