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Chuck Leavell: What In That Bag?

Ed Kopp By

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When the Rolling Stones decide to take their act on the road every other year or so, they usually turn to Chuck Leavell for support on piano. Leavell is an incredibly versatile keyboardist, capable of playing rock, blues, R&B, jazz, fusion—you name it. The Georgia-based piano whiz tackles all of those styles and more on What's In That Bag, the most eclectic Christmas release of the season.

This CD started out as a gift to Leavell's friends and family members, but a Capricorn executive was so smitten that he advised Leavell to add a few more tunes and release the collection publicly.

Former leader of the superb jazz-rock group Sea Level, Chuck Leavell is best known for his work with the Stones, the Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin and dozens of well-known rock groups. Hard to believe, but this Christmas collection is the veteran artist's solo debut.

Three of the first four tracks feature Leavell on vocals, and truth be told, he's a much better pianist than singer. Fortunately the R&B tunes "It's Just Not Christmas," "Merry Christmas, Baby," and "Please Come Home For Christmas" are so well done, you hardly notice Leavell's vocal limitations. The best vehicle for Leavell's voice is "Even Santa Get The Blues," a raucous and hilarious tune written by guitarist Scott Boyer. This one deserves to become a holiday blues classic. The vocal tracks here feature a horde of guest musicians, including Bobby Keys (sax), David Hungate (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums).

Jazz and blues fans will be most enamored with the instrumental cuts, which are far sparer than the vocal tracks. "Joy Boogie" is an ingenious arrangement of "Joy To The World," while "O Christmas Tree" starts out with Leavell's bluesy piano, then segues into a jazz-fusion ensemble piece reminiscent of the Yellowjackets. Leavell also delivers refreshing takes on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "We Three Kings," "Greensleeves," and "O Holy Night." His ornate blues-based piano arrangements remind me of Henry Butler's more accessible creations.

If you don’t mind Christmas music that combines blues, rock, and jazz, Chuck Leavell's What's In That Bag belongs in your bag.

Title: What In That Bag? | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Capricorn Records

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