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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.
Track Listing: Winds of Change; I Wouldn't Lay My Guitar Down; Find Yourself; Reservation Blues; Walls of Hate; Running Along; Blues Cruise; Susie Q; Easy Is My Style; Everything to Gain; Sweet Little Rock and Roller
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)
| Record Label: Bulleye Blues & Jazz
| Style: Blues
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.