Does Mr. Owens know horns? Well, hey, does B. B. King know blues? 'Cause Calvin spent some thirty years as B. B.'s musical director and orchestra leader; one would think he's learned a thing or two about arranging massive blasts of brass against stinging guitar and gut-honest testifyin' vocals.
Since leaving Mr. King's employ Calvin set up his own record company, Sawdust Alley Records, and has quietly gone about the business of releasing excellent discs; these cuts are taken from the most recent three. Calvin blasts off with almost frightening intensity with "Texas Stomp," a furious instrumental that sets the pace. Calvin doesn't sing much - he only takes one here - but what a vocal cast he's coaxed out! First up is the late Johnny Copeland , with "Fathead" Newman joining in on tenor; next a twist with Norma Zenteno singing a lovely Spanish ballad, in Spanish. An odd inclusion, but a very pretty song. Bobby Byrd, then Trudy Lynn, take a couple of Texas-style shuffles before Otis Clay gives one of his characteristically passionate readings on a slow soul burner. Chubby Carrier drops by for a zydeco romp, then Ruby Wilson - my god, what a voice! - turns in the disc's highlight, a sweet soul number that builds to a gospel-like fervour. Another instrumental, again featuring a roaring brass section powered by fluid bass and moaning organ, follows before a misstep, an awkward attempt to marry hip-hop and funk; brave, perhaps, but the result is unlistenable. "Texas Red," too, doesn't quite work, it's funk seemingly a little forced, though it does feature Archie Bell (yup, that Archie Bell!). Mr. King himself contributes guitar behind Calvin's lone vocal turn, a thoroughly credible take on another fairly standard shuffle. He should sing more - he's sure got nothing to be ashamed of.
Calvin closes with another blast, B. B. returning for another instrumental where Calvin really struts his stuff on trumpet; among all his other accomplishments (he wrote, arranged, and produced almost all the tracks), this cat can play!
Despite the inclusion of a couple of tracks that break the continuity a little too harshly for my tastes, this is a stellar collection from a talent of the highest order. If you're a brass fan you need this platter; either that, or get the ones these tracks are taken from. Great stuff!
Sawdust Alley Records
Houston, Texas 77004
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