Greg Nagy: Walk that Fine Thin Line (2009)
It's not necessarily obvious to think of Michigan's "thumb" as being a hotbed of blues music. Sure, Detroit has produced a large share of jazz, R&B and Doo-Wop groups, and the state was home to the frantic blues-fueled rock of the Stooges and the MC5, but despite its proximity to Chicago, Michigan's lower third doesn't exude "blues." Don't tell that to Greg Nagy, guitarist in Lansing's Root Doctor who steps out on his own with Walk that Fine Thin Line, thirty-odd years after picking up his instrument.
The opening title tune seems to operate in a number of orbits, beginning with acapella, gospel-tinged choral backing before settling into a fractured-yet-churchy backbeat with organist Jim Alfredson applying a chordal sheen behind Bobby Gardner's galloping drums and Nagy's biting, wiry guitar. Though only given a brief taste of "pyrotechnics," the economy of the leader's phrasing and implications skimming the tune's surface and digging into slightly distorted sonic chunks, perks the ears. "For the Love of a Woman" is taut, Nagy's chords gently tugging at the form behind his crisp tenor delivery as the rhythm section unfurls a launching pad that's open yet clipped. It would be a mistake to call this music "slick," though the fact that Nagy and his band dole out spare phrasing and unhurried, tight arrangements might be mistaken for a sort of sheen.
In the simplest terms, Nagy's vocal delivery is analogous to his guitar playing thrifty but sharp. He has a pinched, nasal quality, unhurried but with barbs that stick in your craw. Lyrically, Nagy is matter-of-fact, without the self-reflexive yarns that, while interesting, can plague the business end of contemporary songwriting. The focus is on Nagy's tunes and arrangements, though the covers of Willie Brown, Albert King and Keb'Mo' (not to mention the achy country-rock, "She's My Baby") are perfectly nestled within the album's spry whole, wizened bite and insistent funk slicing through it all.
Walk that Fine Thin Line is a strong contemporary-blues debut. Hopefully there's more to come from Greg Nagy's voice, guitar, and tuneful pen.
Track Listing: Walk That Fine Thin Line; For the Love of a Woman; Blues Will Take Good Care of You; Won't Cry; M&O Blues; Sunrise; You can Love Yourself; Not Falling in Love; Jenny Jenny Jenny; She's My Baby.
Personnel: Greg Nagy: guitar and vocals; Jim Alfredson: piano, Hammond B3, Wurlitzer, woodblock, Clavinet, vocals; James Williams: bass, vocals (9); Bobby Gardner: drums, vocals (9); Al Hill: piano (2, 6), Fender Rhodes and vocals (1); Drew Howard: pedal steel guitar (10); Jen Sygit: vocals (1, 4, 6); Rachael Davis: vocals (1, 4, 6, 10); Larry Fratangelo: percussion.