Change may well be inevitable, but some things are just fine the way they are. Take the blues as purveyed by Steve Guyger. Most of the originals on his latest outing could easily have been written decades earlier. That’s ‘cause the giants who built the blues as we know ‘em – the likes of Muddy, Wolf, and their ilk – got it right the first time. And perfection simply can’t be improved on.
Hence we get a fourteen-track collection of superb twelve-bar blues, done in the time-honored way – a tight ensemble sound in support of a deep groove and a succinct message. No over-the-top solos or grandstanding. No blistering barrages where a single, well-shaped note will do. Just mature, carefully considered and crafted music that still manages to deliver a potent punch of visceral intensity.
Guyger’s been around for quite some time, though his discography isn’t particularly extensive. He’s worked with the late Jimmy Rogers and Levon Helm, and shared stages with many of the genre’s towering figures. So he understands what makes the blues so compelling – a combination of the tale and the telling, its gritty honesty and the fundamental strength of the twelve bar form.
That’s not to say that Guyger relies entirely on tradition. He borrows from Zydeco, his harp doing its best impression of an accordion, to add a bit of spice to “Little Rita.” And there’s a bit of a Tex-Mex feel to “Oh Red,” while elsewhere he employs familiar forms – shuffles, a rhumba, a straight-ahead belly-rubber (Muddy’s relatively rare “Let Me hang Around”) on which to hang his spare harmonica work.
Guyger’s approach, almost minimalist in terms of the number of notes he employs, emphasizes musicality over virtuosity - a well-placed accent here, a succinct solo there. His vocals have a curious, slurred quality – in truth a bit of an acquired taste – but his phrasing is eminently effective.
If it’s sheer virtuosity you’re after, you’d do better to look elsewhere. If you’re after timeless music rendered with equal parts tone and taste, the kind where every note matters and none are extraneous, this is a fine collection indeed.