Vocalist/musician/songwriter Jimmy Hall
has had quite the career for himself. From his days as frontman for Dixie rockers Wet Willie
remember "Keep On Smilin'"?to more recently singing with guitar hero Jeff Beck
, he's navigated spots on the Allman Family Revival tour as well as commanded the stage on multiple occasions with the latter-day Allman Brothers Band
during their final years of annual runs at the Beacon Theater.
The Alabama native has always acquitted himself with more than a little style, and this first solo album of his in fifteen years, his debut for guitarist Joe Bonamassa
's KTBA Records, is no exception. Quite the contrary, in fact, as Hall continues in that unabashedly rousing vein that has long been his trademark with nary a whit of self-consciousness on Ready Now
. Still, the LP might've benefitted from a looser, more spontaneous overall approach.
Jimmy Hall's own abandon stands out in great relief in the midst of the many highly-pedigreed accompanists here whose diversity matches the variety of styles on the record. Hall and his co-writers incorporate r&b plus pop into tunes such as "Risin' Up" and the titlesong; the aforementioned contemporary bluesman/label founder assumes the spotlight on the former (in one of five such appearances) and Gov't Mule
's Warren Haynes solos on the latter. Former Stevie Ray Vaughan
keyboardist Reese Wynans also contributes welcome changes in texture with his instruments, while co-producer Josh Smith also takes a turn on guitar.
None of this, however, is exactly innovative stuff in the form of "A Long Goodbye." Spurred on by the ebullient frontman, the musicians manage to elevate the tried-and-true boogie-woogie that is "Girl's Got Sugar" (almost rendering moot its condescending female objectification), but its very inclusion suggests one of two choice cover songs, well-known or obscure, might have been in order here. The material, most of it co-written by Hall with various collaborators, is often as anonymous as the musicianship tends to be.
Having honed a full-throated vocal delivery, Jimmy Hall is able to stamp most of the performances with his own passionate positivism and commitment. Those are virtues that ultimately lace the better of these forty-eight minutes, but they are too often threatened with camouflage by arrangement and production that might better have been left spartan, as is the comparatively spacious "Dream Release" with French horn from Jennifer Kummer.
As a result, the resolute uplifting rendition of an otherwise stock gospel-inflected rock tune like "Holding On For Dear Love" benefits from juxtaposition with the acoustic-guitar based "Without Your Love." Sparkling moments appear on Ready Now
just when the album threatens to become predictable and that latter arrangement, highlighted by Jared James Nichols' no-frills guitar solo, is just such an instance.
With its twenty-four page booklet of photos, credits and other testimonials matching the vibrant cover art, Ready Now
looks like a project on which no expense was spared and more often than not, it sounds that way too. In the end though, and in spite of the arguable embarrassment of riches that surrounds Jimmy Hall, it is he who invariably makes it worth hearing the infectious likes of "Jumpin' For Joy."
Jumpin’ For Joy; Risin' Up; Dream Release; Girl’s Got Sugar; Ready Now;
Holding On For Dear Love; A Long Goodbye; Will You Still Be Here;
Without Your Love; Love For It; Eyes In The Back Of Your Head.
Jimmy Hall: vocals, harmonica; Steve Patrick: flugelhorn; Calvin Turner: horn arrangement;
Greg Morrow: percussion.
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