It's usually a mistake when one artist tries to play multiple instruments on a solo album. But few blues cats are as versatile as Marty Grebb, and everything he touches turns to gold on Smooth Sailin'.
Grebb is a huge talent who has collaborated with dozens of big-name artists, beginning with the Buckinghams and lately with Leon Russell, Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal. Grebb blows tenor and baritone saxophones, tickles the ivories, wields a mighty guitar, and sings with soul-drenched passion on these 13 fetching originals.
Best known for his sax work, Grebb is hardly a one-man band on this solo debut. Raitt and Mahal head a lengthy list of well-known guest musicians.
Sailin' is a slick but sophisticated recording that, strictly speaking, isn't solely a blues release. About half the tracks offer straight-ahead blues, while the rest include R&B tracks and some blues-influenced pop songs. Highlights include a glossy Stevie Winwood-style R&B number ("High Wire Walker"), a spare Band-like ballad ("Mississippi Muddy Water"), a roadhouse soul track ("Hen House," with Mahal), a New Orleans-style funk piece ("Bad Blood"), and a Randy Newman-like orchestral ballad ("Love and Shelter"). My favorites are two sublime blues duets with a couple of great female singers: Bonnie Raitt on "Soul Mate," and Teresa James on the "Heaven and Earth." Raitt plays her trademark slide guitar on the former, while the latter packs as much emotional wallop as any Marvin Gaye duet with Tammi Terrell.
While the lyrics here are fairly conventional, the biggest surprise is Grebb's smooth singing. On some tracks he sounds like Eric Clapton, on others he emulates Rick Danko of The Band. Factor in support from the likes of Steve Cropper, Jim Keltner, Amos Garrett, three members of Little Feat, Rick Braun, Ivan Neville, Rick Vito and many others, and this is a satisfying release that fully deserves a big crossover audience.