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CD Review
Elvin Bishop
"The Skin I'm In"
Alligator Records ALCD 4859
by Tony Glover
A new album by Elvin Bishop is like a welcome visit from a once rowdy friend from out of town -- you know things are gonna probably pick up, and you'll likely be doin' some grinnin'. Bishop was the first guitarist in the pace-setting 1963 Butterfield Blues Band, Mike Bloomfield was added later -- and the two defined the twin-lead style that's a staple today. Bishop went on to a solo career, even had a hit with "Fooled Around And Fell In Love". In 1988 he cut his first album for Alligator, Big Fun; and this is his fourth disc of good-time blues for the label.

One of the benefits of being a bluesman is that your career doesn't die (or become the butt of talk-show monologue humor) when you pass thirty -- age is respected -- consider John Lee Hooker's elder statesman status. There are several tracks here where Bishop, now 55, is facing his mortality -- but he does it with his usual down-home, good humored spin. "Right Now Is The Hour" celebrates the joy of living before you die; "Middle Aged Man" counsels on the wisdom of slowing down and having more birthdays ("cut out that cocaine, get you some Rogaine"), while Mercy Dee Walton's "Shady Lane" extols living to the max--"I don't want the world to own me nothing when they lay me down in Shady Lane."

Bishop plays a thick funky lead guitar (with mellow slide guitar on several tracks), backed by solid rhythm and occasional horn fills. His singing is laconic but persuasive and his style leans towards good-time blues. But he can also turn out sweet slow love songs, witness "Long Shadows". Or pithy social comments, as on "The Skin They're In", where he laments the way men-women black-white young/old are all stuck in their own narrow perceptions. On "Radio Boogie", he and Charlie Musslewhite trade memories of the late night radio stations where people all across the country were hearing their first R&B sounds, it's an acoustic romp.

There's nothing superflash or cosmically crucial here, just a set of solidly swinging, good and gritty, mostly original tunes done by a man who is well at home in the skin he's in -- and these days, that's more than enough.

This review is copyright 1998 by Tony Glover, all rights reserved.

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Copyright 1997, 1998 by Ray M. Stiles. All rights reserved.

Copyright 1997, 1998 by Ray M. Stiles. All rights reserved.