At 65 years young, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater is sounding better than ever, and Reservation Blues
is arguably his best album yet.
Clearwater wears a Native American headdress on stage and has even been known make a grand entrance atop a stallion when introduced at outdoor performances. (His grandma was a Cherokee.) His penchant for stagery sometimes obscures the fact that Clearwater is a fine songwriter, a dexterous southpaw guitarist, and a deep-hearted singer. What's more, his music effectively bridges the gap between Chicago blues and early rock 'n roll.
There's a depth to three or four songs on Reservation Blues that surpasses anything Clearwater has recorded previously and that's saying something when you consider the man has been a consistent performer for 40 years. The opener "Winds of Change" (co-written by Karen Leipziger and Richard Fleming after a tornado hit Nashville) is an ominous tune that communicates the sense of mortality virtually every person has experienced. It's a terrific song, and one likely to be covered by many other artists. Almost as stirring is Clearwater's swampy original "Walls of Hate," a tune about discrimination that was inspired by the razing of the Berling Wall.
The rest of the album mixes gritty Chicago blues, Chuck Berry-style rock 'n roll, and jump blues. The jazzy title track offers autobiography and social commentary, while "Running Along" (co-written by Eddy and his wife Renee Greenman) registers a deep blues feeling. The faster tunes rock out ferociously, especially the remake of Clearwater's oft-covered "I Wouldn't Lay My Guitar Down" and a fun version of "Sweet Little Rock and Roller," both of which illustrate the guitarist's Chuck Berry leanings. "Blues Cruise" is an undulating instrumental that commemorates a blues fan's dream vacation, while the cover of "Susie Q" is the only track that seems close to being a throwaway.
Expertly produced by Duke Robillard, Reservation Blues features crackling performances by Robillard sidemen Doug James (baritone sax), Dennis Taylor (tenor sax), Matt McCabe (piano), and Duke's rock-steady, New England-based rhythm section. Cary Bell (harp) and Robillard (guitar) make brief but stellar contributions.
Personnel: Eddie "The Chief Clearwater (guitar, vocals); Dennis Taylor (tenor sax) Doug James (baritone sax); James MacAllister (drums, percussion); John Packer, Patrick McKeever (bass); Matt McCabe (piano); Duke Robillard (guitar, three tracks); Carry Bell (harmonica, one track)