Performing 250 shows a year, Texas bluesman Sonny Rhodes is the self-proclaimed Disciple of the Blues. Thanks to his trademark bejeweled turban, white patent leather shoes and bright, flashy suits, he is certainly the snappiest dressed blues performer. The influence of the Texas guitar greats is easily heard in the music of Sonny Rhodes. However he is best known for his unique lap-steel guitar playing which he learned from Oakland bluesman L.C. 'Good Rockin'' Robinson. On his second Stony Plain release, Rhodes gets plenty of opportunity to roar on the slide. The all-original disc includes 45 minutes of tunes either written by Sonny or bandmember/producer Bob Greenlee.
The CD is a mix of traditional blues plus pop and it's all described in "Big Bag O' Blues". Rhodes uses his gritty and scratchy vocals to emote his conviction and passion for the genre as he declares: 'I've got fast blues, slow blues, blues in between, up blues, down blues and blues kinda mean'. On this track, his electric lead guitar gives tribute to Albert Collins while the sax and trumpet of Charlie DeChant and David Weaver work to fatten the sound. "Love and Harmony" accurately describes many of today's youth: 'drinking booze and staying out all night long, keep you wondering when they are coming home, ain't no telling what they are out there doin, whatever it is it's contributing to their ruin'. It's a James Brown sounding soul/funk song with a lead guitar solo that pleads commitment to the cause of bringing love and harmony back to modern society. The haunting Hammond B3 of Steve Leigh and Doug Bare complement a melancholic slide on "She's Not Happy Unless She's Sad".
Husbands will rejoice to the lyrics of "Honey Do Woman" where Sonny isn't singing about cantaloupe or watermelon! Five irresistible notes hypnotize and captivate on "Win-Win Situation". Don't be surprised if you find yourself plucking the notes in the air or on your own guitar. The dynamic blues guitar continues on "Good Man, Good Woman" where it sings and pleads like a whippoorwill. "Van Fire Blues" tells the true story of the fire that almost cost Rhodes his life. In the song, he extends his love to many who assisted him through the crisis. Unfortunately the heart-warming lyrics do not have a strong melody to match them. Thus, what could have been a real touching number ends up falling onto dry land. Things shift into the pop world on several tracks. "Driving Two Ways On A One-Way Street" and "I Wanna Get Your Boogie" both contain catchy rhythms with a soul edge while a touch of funk is added to "I Bleed Blue".
As mentioned, the disc features many musical types but this works against Rhodes as it fragments the flow of songs from one to the next. Despite being backed by members of his excellent road-tested powerhouse band and competent King Snake studio musicians, the disc does not achieve the same intensity of Sonny's live shows. Nonetheless, expect plenty of raw edged Texas blues with stinging single notes picked out on the steel. It's a solid effort that will incite many to catch him perform live.
For CDs, booking and information, contact: Stony Plain Records, PO Box 861, Edmonton, AB Canada T5J 2L8 website: www.stonyplainrecords.com e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tim Holek, 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.