With blues now so far removed from its origins - origins owing much to time, place, and circumstance - it's inevitable that questions of 'authenticity' should arise. Few would continue to insist that blues remain the exclusive province of those who suffered through the inequities and indignities from whence they sprang; that would render the music little more than an historical footnote. Most listeners beyond the very casual will have their own sense of what constitutes 'real blues'; it is, after all, a rather subjective issue.
Regardless of personal tastes, however, I doubt that anyone would question Floyd Lee's "Ain't Doin' Nothin' Wrong." This one's as real as it gets. Sweaty and intense, informed by a brooding menace and infused with equal measures of despair and defiance, it's everything the blues is supposed to be.
Floyd's story is the stuff of legend; born in Mississippi; he actually did pick cotton in his youth, and remembers sneaking out of the house to hear his father play clubs in Memphis with Guitar Slim. He worked with Jimmy Reed (contributing uncredited rhythm guitar to Jimmy's classic, "Honest I Do") and Wilson Pickett, and spent over thirty years as a hotel doorman in New York while toiling by night in the city's blues clubs. He cut his first disc, 2001's "Mean Blues," while in his seventies; it was easily one of the year's best. Now he's back with a follow-up that extends his reach; whereas medical issues restricted him to vocals last time out, "Ain't Doin' Nothin' Wrong" shows he's a fine guitarist as well.
Some voices are ideally suited to the blues; Floyd's is one such, a gruff, growling marvel, unpolished yet with an unmistakable and unflinching honesty. Sure, there are better singers on the scene; but every word Floyd sings rings absolutely true, seemingly torn from the tortured depths of the man's soul. There's no artifice, no affectation involved, just raw, unpolished testifying in all its ragged glory.
Returning to lend rhythmic support are bassist Brad Vickers and drummer Mike Fox, with George Papageorge contributing occasional B3. But the big story, once again, is the presence of Amogla Records founder Joel Poluck, who wrote all but a handful of the tunes here and contributes superb guitar to boot; he seems to have an intuitive understanding of the importance of economy and the value of intelligent, sympathetic support. Even his leads, relatively few and far between by today's standards, reveal an admirable restraint.
Joel's songs stick largely to traditional blues grooves, but somehow seem to possess a wisdom beyond his (apparent, as I'm only going by accompanying photos) age. Take, for example, the droning "Someday," with Floyd chanting the refrain, weary resignation held at bay by fierce pride. Or the not-quite-humourous "I'm In Trouble Again," which sees Floyd itemizing his romantic difficulties with a wry and rueful acceptance many will identify with.
Joel invariably manages, both lyrically and musically, to make his points in subtle ways, never resorting to the obvious. As a result his compositions stand up exceptionally well to repeated plays; indeed, he's achieved what most only aspire to, a sense of timelessness that makes his songs sound as old s time itself yet as fresh as today's headlines. Combine that with the lifetime's wisdom obvious in Floyd's every word, and it's clear these two are an inspired pairing.
"Ain't Doin' Nothin' Wrong" is an extraordinary disc - although the year's but half over this one's already at the top of my 'best of' list in the traditional category. It's hard to imagine anything's going to top it - this is, after all, exactly what the blues are all about. As an indie I'd guess Amogla's unlikely to be mounting a major marketing campaign any time soon. But if you consider yourself a blues fan, you owe it to yourself to track this one down.
Nothing short of a masterpiece, "Ain't Doin' Nothin' Wrong" gets my very highest recommendation!
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