Phil Upchurch, who has been a highly in-demand session and touring guitarist and bassist for three and a half decades (and released twenty previous albums along the way), has now released one of his most personal and satisfying CDs yet, Tell the Truth. And the title is apt; Upchurch was able to make this album with his current working band performing the music of his choice, without having to comply with record company directives to use big-name guest stars or tailor the music to fulfill any marketing objectives. So what you get here is the real Phil Upchurch.
His impressively varied resume (he’s worked with seemingly everybody in jazz through pop) allows Upchurch to take a well-rounded approach to each song, but at heart, he’s still a Chicago blues guitarist. The program includes a nice variety of tunes, but each has that unmistakable blues stamp. The selections range from the current (he’s the first to cover a tune from the new Steely Dan CD Two Against Nature ) to the historical (W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”), and from the familiar (the opener “Jive Samba” and the closer “Misty”) to the fresh (two Upchurch originals, plus one by pianist David Arnay).
The consistently enjoyable program is mellow and laid-back throughout. But in this case, be assured that these are not polite euphemisms for sleepy or boring. While the music establishes a comfortable, relaxing ambiance, it does so with self-assurance and tastefulness, not tedious clichés. Upchurch and his colleagues are never in your face with technique and chops; rather, they impress with expressiveness, good interplay, and plenty of fresh ideas to convey. In fact, two of the most familiar tunes on the CD, Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” and Neil Hefti’s “Girl Talk” (too often rendered as schmaltzy pop) are remarkable for the fresh approach taken to each. Another highlight is Upchurch’s take on “St. Louis Blues;” on this one he plays solo, and demonstrates a perfect balance between melody, rhythm and bass line with his a cappella arrangement. (Evidence 22222)