The House Is Burnin'
Sawdust Alley (2002) SAZ4233
12 tracks, 62 minutes.
by Craig Ruskey
Review date: May 2003
"Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by The Blues Foundation
Having once been B.B. King's bandleader certainly gives Calvin Owens a bit more bite to his job profile than most can lay claim to. With an orchestra that numbers close to twenty pieces without the inclusion of strings (yes, there are those too) will definitely leave an impression, and there's little doubt that Owens hired plenty of guns outside of his band, including Trudy Lynn, Grady Gaines, Leonard "Low Down" Brown, and others, but the outcome might be described as a fusion of many of styles of music, and not particularly straight-ahead blues. The disc's opener, Sawdust Alley is a
thickly arranged instrumental that rides close to Tower Of Power or Kool & The Gang territory, and for Trudy Lynn's pair behind the microphone, Don't Walk Away is more of a soul or slow R&B groove, and Stop Lying In My Face, is grinding funk. Coffee Man finds Owens himself belting out the vocals over a well-orchestrated shuffle but the lyrics show little in the way of creativity, and Ladies Please Touch Me is layered with more syrup than a stack of Sunday morning pancakes, awhile Sweet Lovin' Man is shuffling funk. The title track finds Gloria Edwards
tackling the vocal chores, but the background singers and enormous band leave little room for any individuality sounding more like a cacophony, the Leonard Brown steps in for B.B. King's Please Love Me, offering some good moments, while Message To Man is a sweltering modern blues. Trombonist Aubrey Tucker's Woman Hollering Creek is another richly layered instrumental with blues a fair part of its base, but again, there's an overall sweetness that makes itself apparent, and the final pair are Charles Brown's perennial favorite, Merry Christmas Baby and Mel Torme's The Christmas Song, obviously owing to its release last year prior to the season of
Yule logs, fruitcakes, ugly ties, and button-down sweaters. There's no question that what's here is musically superb and incredibly well played, but the actual blues content lies behind the fancy arrangements.
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