Ever since guitarist Enrico Crivellaro garnered the attention of Canadian audiences--- usually while accompanying harmonica ace Dave Rotundo--his name's been on the lips of "those-in-the-know". Here was a superbly gifted virtuoso, diffident by nature, yet an awesomely commanding presence onstage.
'Key To My Kingdom' will be a revelation for those unfamiliar with Crivellaro. Many blues connoisseurs associate Crivellaro with Janiva Magness: He was the "gun-for-hire" on her superb 1999 Blues Leaf label release. This boyishly handsome Italian-born artist also cemented his reputation backing up James "Icepick" Harman. Recently, he's been touring with soul guru Finis Tasby. Harman and Tasby handle the eight vocal tracks on 'Key To My Kingdom'.
Lyrical content was a guiding factor on song selection, so celebrated soul composer and cutting-edge wordsmith Percy Mayfield had the inside track. Two Mayfield classics became obvious picks, and Crivellaro's burning improvisations adorn Tasby's dignified vocals. "Stand By" has a knockout arrangement by any standards and the result is total fulfillment, while "You're In For a Big Surprise" is brimming with thoughtful horn riffs, a thundering organ solo by Bruce Katz, and a heavy Magic Sam-feel that Crivellaro and Company pull off expertly.
"Drinkin' Cheap Champagne" features Icepick at his demented best, and Crivellaro layers it with such raucously bent guitar work that Harman must have been chortling in his beer. Few singers ride the groove more assuredly than Harman, just witness "Help Me Flip Another Flop"---a funky uptown blues that seduces the ears. It features guitarist Alex Schultz dishing up a thick-toned solo, heavily influenced by Bay Area axe legend Johnny Heartsman.
B.B.'s "Key To My Kingdom" is majestic, and Enrico and Finis give it the royal treatment. "Walkin' and Walkin"-- the Little Milton reliable--is re-worked to haunting effect using a swampy guitar feel that would gladden the heart of Guitar Gable.
Crivellaro has a predilection for twisting the predictable into sounding fresh, as evidenced on Ramsey Lewis' "The In Crowd". Crank up the tempo, spin a Buddy Guy-guitar vibe, simmer with a modern r&b groove, add in Bruce Katz doing his best impression of Les McCann, and voila----a new instrumental delicacy.
No song rattled my cage more convincingly than "Rain Is A Bringdown", a heartfelt Ruth Brown song that had slipped into undeserved obscurity. Finis does a magnificent version, while Crivellaro's guitar digs deep into the crevices of the soul. A thunderbolt from the blue!
Crivellaro is more than another accomplished guitarist with a wide-ranging knowledge of the blues, jazz, and soul idioms at his fingertips. The edginess and intensity of the blues is often a dynamic counterpoint to the more relaxed vibe of the soul/jazz idioms, and this juxtaposition is especially apparent on the half-spoken soulful blues of "Makin' Money". Delight to the acerbic commentary of Finis Tasby, tagged by the hard-edged icy tones of Crivellaro's slicing guitar work.
The cool soulful/jazz stylings of the sixties are sublimely re-created on the instrumental "Train to Venice", a groove-alicious workout brimming with cascading keys, bossy horns, and especially Crivellaro's funky guitar, which hearkens back to the heyday of the Meters.
'Key To My Kingdom' marks the coronation of a new Prince of the Blues. Enrico Crivellaro should have ranks of willing new subjects, with bountiful reasons to enter his musical castle.
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