Mean Gene Kelton's "Most Requested," a fifteen-slice all-original platter, is aptly titled; liner notes claim it's Gene's recorded response to fan requests. It's easy to understand why these are favourites, as most are obviously influenced by better-known artists. That's not necessarily a bad thing; blues is, after all, a fairly limited form, and freely borrowing from what's come before is part of the tradition. And to ignore one's predecessors is metaphorically along the lines of re-inventing the wheel. Gene is merely mining the rich and varied tapestry of American music, itself a melting pot of style and influence.
But while it's easy enough to play 'spot the influences,' thankfully "Most Requested" stands, for the most part, quite well on it's own merits. The opener, "Texas Honey," comes straight from the school of Z.Z. Top; "Too White To Play The Blues" rides a Muddy stop-time groove to good effect. "If This Guitar Could Talk," with it's snarling lead, owes a little of its sinewy structure to Santana; "Tears On My Guitar" sounds much like a Gary Moore tune, complete with strings (although here they're obviously synthesized). "Goin' Back To Memphis" is an irresistible slice of rockabilly, with Gene contributing some fine acoustic harp; the background vocals are a bit much, but thankfully are limited and not too much of a distraction. "Cruisin' Texas Avenue" is a breezy slice of pure pop; that pop sensibility reappears with "Leaving Paradise (Goodbye Louisiana)," strongly reminiscent of Brook Benton's immortal "Rainy Night In Georgia."
Things get bawdy toward the end, from the comparatively mild "Tight Black Dress" and the light-hearted "My Blow Up Lover" to the stone country of "Texas City Dyke" ("her real name is Bertha/but they all call her Butch"), and the grinding "My Baby Don't Wear No Panties," a call and response number that again borrows from Muddy, though with considerably more Texas-style grease in the groove.
"Most Requested" is a family affair, with Gene's sons Jamie and Sid contributing bass and drums respectively. (Seems kind of weird for dad to be singing that last number while backed up by the boys!). Musically most tunes work well (though the poppier numbers may put purists off), Gene proving himself both a competent vocalist and top-notch string-bender. Lyrically, however, Gene often seems stretched just to come up with ideas for songs. When there are numerous tunes on a disc that talk about "my guitar" - from "If This Guitar Could Talk" to Tears On My Guitar" - it's obvious that a poetic sensibility is sadly lacking. If the words are weak one might just as well resort to covers.
With fifteen tunes clocking in at just over sixty-six minutes, Gene keeps things pretty tight. And while I can't say I'm likely to return to this one often, it's a pleasant and enjoyable listen, with several cuts guaranteed to liven up a party.
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