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Bobby Broom: Soul Fingers

Jim Trageser By

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A thematic sequel to his 2007 release, Song and Dance, Bobby Broom's Soul Fingers is a deep-pile take on late 1960s—early 1970s pop, with Broom in his best Wes Montgomery vein, giving new soul-jazz life to one-time chart hits.

And yet, it's also a break from Song and Dance because Broom has changed his backing combo since then and now fronts a guitar-organ-drum trio. The deep soul-jazz groove and Ben Paterson's Hammond B-3 mean that there is a certain similarity to Booker T & the MG's permeating this set that wasn't present on the more standard guitar-bass-drums setup on the earlier outing. (Broom's reworking of pop hits goes back to 2001's Modern Man, where he tackled Stevie Wonder, Bacharach & David, and Eric Clapton. He first dipped into The Beatles songbook on Stand! from the same year.)

As with Song and Dance, a Beatles cover leads off this album—the Lennon-McCartney proto-hard rock classic, "Come Together" in this case. It seems a bit of an odd choice in that this track is not indicative of the rest of the session, showing far less fealty to the original melody than on the other cuts. Broom takes Lennon's vocal lead on guitar each chorus, then vamps off the theme before handing it off to Paterson.

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"—George Harrison's lush ballad from The Beatles (Apple Records, 1968), the group's so-called "White Album"—gets a more straight-ahead treatment, with Broom capturing the feel of Harrison's guitar leads and his friend Eric Clapton's solo from the original. Paterson creates a shimmering background behind Broom's extended extrapolation on the second half of the song.

The two Beatles cuts also seem informed by Count Basie's 1966 Basie's Beatles Bag (Verve Records), in which the Count traded piano for organ on several of the tracks—a Wurlitzer, and not a Hammond, to be sure. But Basie, nearly alone of the Big Band generation, shared Montgomery's appreciation for the modern popcraft of the 1960s—an open-mindedness Broom has also cultivated. And so where the Beatles and other rock bands often have their music approached as a bit of a novelty by many jazz artists, Broom's approach is similar to that of the Count (and his arranger on that outing, Chico O'Farrill) in treating Lennon, McCartney and Harrison with the same respect and seriousness as any other composer.

At the same time, Soul Fingers has a bit of the spirit of Matthew Sweet's and Susanna Hoff's three-volume (so far) Under the Covers (Shout Factory) series in Broom's ability to both capture much of the original songs' charm while also putting a unique spin on it. Neither strict cover nor re-creation, each track is instead a fresh take that is immediately recognizable but with a jazz twist to it.

This observation is brought to mind by Broom's take on Steely Dan's early hit, "Do It Again," as well as his tackling of Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breaze" and Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale."

"Do It Again" gets turned into a classic soul-jazz number—which, given Steely Dan's own jazz leanings, isn't too much of a leap. "Summer Breeze" is the closest to the original presented here. Broom opens with a nearly note for note quotation of the 1972 hit's signature theme. Paterson's solo doesn't veer too far afield, but every note, every variation is exceptionally tasteful.

But it's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" where the trio really pulls it all together. Procul Harum's 1967 classic is built around two distinct but complementary melodies: that of the Hammond M-102 organ of Matthew Fisher, and Gary Brooker's singing. Broom's version has Paterson open the song on organ before Broom takes the vocal part on guitar. It's slowed down a notch from the original, giving it a stately elegance, particularly with Paterson's gospel-tinged fills behind Broom's lead.

Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe," The Temptations' "Get Ready," Bread's "The Guitar Man," and Michael Jackson's "I Can't Help It" (written by Stevie Wonder and Susaye Greene) fill out the album, along with the only original, Broom's "Eyes of Faith"—which sounds as if it could have fit in on a late '70s / early '80s George Benson outing: bright, up-tempo, with strings giving it a supper club feel.

Drummer Kobie Watkins (replaced on the fifth and sixth tracks by producer Steve Jordan) is solid throughout—nothing flashy or attention grabbing, just a series of perfectly crafted foundations for Broom and Paterson, rhythms that set each song up just right. Sometimes his playing is so far down in the mix that it's implied more than heard, but always, always present and felt.

It's a superb recording, with exceptional playing, spot-on arrangements, and a killer choice of songs to cover.

Track Listing: Come Together; Ode to Billie Joe; Do it Again; While My Guitar Gently Weeps; Summer Breeze; Eyes of Faith; Get Ready; A Whiter Shade of Pale; I Can't Help It; The Guitar Man

Personnel: Bobby Broom, guitar, electric bass; Ben Paterson, Hammond B-3; Kobie Watkins, drums; Steve Jordan, drums; Justin Thomas, vibraphones; Sergio Pires, acoustic guitar, Luciano Antonio, acoustic guitar; Andrew Toomes, melodica; Filipe Fraga, percussion; Ron Blake, tenor and baritone saxophone; Chris Rogers, trumpet, flugelhorn

Title: Soul Fingers | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: MRi Entertainment

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