Okay, I admit that my first impression of the Kelly Bell Band's ". . . Ain't Like It used To Be" wasn't very favourable at all; pure hip-hop, it had me wondering just what I was in for. And the second track had a slick urban soul feel, owing more Earth Wind And Fire than any blues band I know. But the title track, with an acoustic guitar and harmonica intro that gives way to slippery funk, helped put things in perspective.
Baltimore-based Kelly Bell has two previous outings to his credit. Calling this one "…Ain't Like It Used To Be" seems a brave and defiant statement of intent; indeed things have changed, and Kelly seems determined to mirror his reality through his music. And that reality includes traditional blues (Talking In Your Sleep," with Kelly trading vocals with a very B.B.-sounding Jesse Yawn), R&B ("She Done Moved"), breezy soul-jazz ("Mama's Chasing The Dragon," although the darkness of the message belies the breeziness of the music). There's funk in every groove, and I suspect the whole wouldn't exist were it not for the freewheeling influence of rock. Nor is Kelly shy about using modern effects like sound samples, spoken word intros, industrial noise - in short, anything that reflects the world as Kelly sees it.
In short, this one's definitely not for the purists. Kelly's tastes are unapologetically eclectic; I can't see him restricting himself to please an audience; rather, he seems determined to drag them along, with an unswerving belief in his own musical vision that's very convincing indeed. It's not that he's afraid to tackle a straight blues; it's just that he needs a broader palette, a bigger canvas, to express himself. He makes use of, among other things, horns, a chorus, strings, and a bassoon to create his musical landscape; guests helping out include guitarist Bobby Parker, and Nighthawks harp-man Mark Wenner.
Kelly isn't alone in attempting to fuse tradition with modern influences. The results are often mixed, with many attempts seemingly as disposable as last week's news, yesterday's fad. But there's an honesty at work here, a sincere desire to address issues and right wrongs. And to do so through music that moves the feet as well as appealing to the intellect.
I can't say I'll play this one every day, but I'm glad I've had the pleasure, and I know I'll return to it again. In a world where there are simply too many sound-alike outings, this one stands out.
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