In Grand Style
Castle (2002) CMDDD578
2 CDs, 34 tracks, 156 minutes
by Craig Ruskey
Review date: March 2003
"Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by The Blues Foundation
Otis Grand honestly shouldn't require much of an introduction to blues fans as he's been a major figure on the UK scene, as well as stateside, for a good many years. Just a look at the names that have appeared with him, or those he has appeared with, speaks volumes on his guitar abilities; Joe Louis Walker, Kim Wilson, Sugar Ray Norcia, Phillip Walker, Curtis Salgado, and a great many others should point to Otis as an artist to pay close attention to. He garnered top honors as "UK Blues Guitarist of the Year" seven years in a row, from 1990 through 1996, he's also a Handy-nominated artist, and one with many more notches in his belt. But what counts in the long run is the music and how well it holds up to listening and In Grand Style delivers from beginning to end.
This excellent two-disc set was compiled and annotated by Neil Slaven (a blues journalist/guru with a lengthy career himself) and covers a wide swath of Grand's career, minus his recent outing with Joe Louis Walker on the JSP Guitar Brothers CD. Since Grand isn't a singer, his numerous discs have employed a number of top-shelf vocalists, and on this set, Kim Wilson comes through on a stirring Things I Forgot To Do, Sugar Ray Norcia on his own Careless Living and a superb reading of Magic Sam's All Night Long, plus 5 To 99 Blues, a stellar example of Curtis Salgado's impassioned voice on Finish Line, Earl Green on Things Are Getting Harder To Do and Your Love Pulls No Punches, and Joe Louis Walker sounding good on Leave That Girl. There are a few searing instrumentals guaranteed to satisfy in the form of SRV (My Mood Too) and the blistering Grand Style that proves, without question, that Otis is a masterful guitar player with an unerring sense of just how important space is. If any further proof of his playing is necessary, his two-and-a-half minute cover of the perennial Magic Sam favorite, Looking Good, is a showstopper. Other folks who crop up from time to time adding to this outcome are Anson Funderburgh, Luther Allison, Darrell Nulisch, Debbie Davies, Jimmy "T-99" Nelson, and the B.B. King Horns. There's a fine balance of jumping R&B and straight-ahead blues along with a few modern twists thrown in, and while horns abound on the set, they don't overrun the proceedings. Waiting For The Hard Times To Go is a prime example; behind Norcia's smoky vocals, there's a steady foundation to work from, and when Grand tears into a simmering and dynamic Buddy Guy-inspired solo, the horns bolster and push him along without ever being in the way.
While the focus is squarely on Otis Grand and his prowess as a guitar slinger, he has always avoided the pitfalls of overplaying or overstating his presence, and in the long run, he has proven himself to be a solid leader. The focus is rightly centered on having his guitar work as another voice and his mixture of tones runs the gamut from slashing and gritty to laid-back and soothing, all the while making highly personalized statements. Questions have been raised over the course of his career as to why his roster seems to be going through a revolving door, but admittedly, he is a hard man to please and one who demands the absolute best from those who accompany him. With a complete handle on the crunch of Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker-like West Coast jump, B.B. King shuffles, and much more, this is what blues guitar playing is all about, but in the same sense, it's also a fine example what can happen when good friends come together to record and play from the heart. Neil Slaven's liner notes shed a good amount of light on Grand's career while sound quality throughout the two-plus hours is superb. And if In Grand Style is any indication, there's plenty more in the way of gutwrenching, guitar-laced blues in the future. Highly recommended.
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