When you get a couple of guitar players together you’re often going to get the kind of finger-busting interplay heard on Chicken Fat ; the question is whether it will be interesting enough to listen to or too self-indulgent. For the most part, Mel Brown succeeds in creating a pleasant piece of soul jazz that, on occasion, ventures into straightforward blues tunes.
There’s plenty of guitar solos on this 1967 record, and Brown takes an edgy, almost haphazard approach to soling that leans heavily on blues licks no doubt acquired during a tenure as a sideman with T-Bone Walker. Capable of fusing together riffs and clichés into interesting solos, Brown also makes use of the latest technology, such as primitive distortion techniques and a wah-wah pedal.
One can clearly see why Brown was sought after as a sideman, but Herb Ellis brings a more sophisticated style of noodling to the record, working from a wider vocabulary than Brown has at his disposal. It’s interesting to see how the two work together to create a unique sound, and this pair creates more attractive moments than when Brown is paired with Arthur Wright on the other selections.
But what really holds this session back is some odd choices in instrumentation. Gerald Wiggins plays the feeblest sounding organ ever to be found in a studio and for some odd reason, Ellis uses a twelve-string for many of the tunes to no particular effect, as if he just bought it on the way to the session and wanted to give it a go.
All this aside, your enjoyment of this session will depend on two things: one, your liking of guitar solos and two, your enjoyment of the blues idiom played with a heavy beat. A fairly enjoyable record, but there’s better stuff like this out there.
1. Chicken Fat 2. Greasy Spoon 3. Home James 4. Slalom 5. Hobo Flats 6. Shanty 7. Sad But True 8. I
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