I was actually a bit nervous to review Buddy Guy’s latest album. He’s 81-years-old and musicians, even great ones, eventually lose a step. Guy hasn’t lost a step, though. If anything, he’s somehow gotten better. The Blues is Alive and Well is a fantastic album, and Guys’ voice and guitar are in peak form.
How has Guy gotten better? My theory is his openness to new sounds and music. Guy inspired no shortage of musicians, from Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan. But Guy has obviously spent some time listening to their work, too, and has folded it into his own music. That integration of new ideas has kept his playing from stagnating. One of the album’s more interesting tracks is “Cognac,” which he performs with Keith Richards and Jeff Beck, two legendary guitarists and both less than a decade his junior. One might expect Guy to have the more old-fashioned sound, but surprisingly it’s Richards who sounds throwback (in a good way), Guy who sounds contemporary, and Beck who, as always, sounds like he’s from the future.
The title track is pure Buddy Guy, with lots of short, jabbing licks almost hiding within the song. Guy’s solos aren’t composed so much as they’re emoted. You can’t necessarily hum them, but you’ll always feel them. He’s backed on the track by the Muscle Shoals Horns, but rather than becoming an uptown blues a la BB King, Guy keeps everything bluesy and true to his own sound. The horns are just a tool to make a great song even better. The Muscle Shoals Horns make a few appearances on the album, and provide a lift to the songs without making any of them sound like a New Orleans funeral. But the guitar is the true star of the album. So much so, that Guy’s guitars are identified in the song credits.
Guy explores some funk and some fuzzy tones, but he’s at his best when he’s delivering pure blues. For example, “Nine Below Zero,” a Sonny Boy Williamson cover, is just a perfect track. Guy’s guitar and voice are in-your-face, the drums just barely providing a beat. If not for the production, which perfectly conveys the instruments, the track could have been recorded years ago, perhaps a lost track from his (and Junior Wells’) classic Play the Blues. One of the album’s nicer moments is “Milking Muther for Ya,” which is just Guy singing along with his electric guitar and no band. The track seems like a live moment caught on tape, but seeing what Guy can do with just his voice and guitar brings home how much talent and energy he still has.
On The Blues is Alive and Well Guy shows he’s still an engaged, passionate artist. Guy uses the same band across the album, including drummer/producer Tom Hambridge, who also wrote or co-wrote most of the album’s songs. There’s a chemistry to all of the tracks because of the consistency of the line-up. But there’s also Guy and his indefatigable talent. He brings it on each and every track. Any blues fan will truly love this album.
The Review: 10/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Guilty as Charged
– You Did the Crime
– Somebody Up There
– Nine Below Zero
The Big Hit
– Nine Below Zero
Review by Steven Ovadia