Longevity streaks don’t always seem impressive, because, superficially, they often appear to be more about showing up and less about quality. But the thing about most longevity-based streaks is that they signal quality. You don’t get to do the same thing for decades without being at least a little good at it. It applies to everyone from television’s Alex Trebek (hosting almost 8,000 Jeopardy episodes) to baseball’s Cal Ripken Jr. (2,632 consecutive games played). It also applies to blues rockers Savoy Brown and their mature, thoughtful sound, demonstrated on Ain’t Done Yet, their 41st album.
The beauty of a career as long and as prolific as Savoy Brown’s is that there’s not any kind of expectation to be familiar with all of the work. It’s sort of like Law and Order (456 episodes) in that you can jump in wherever you happen to be and it all makes perfect sense. I’m not very familiar with Savoy Brown’s history and I still appreciated Ain’t Done Yet.
Savoy Brown has survived thanks to singer/guitarist/keyboardist/harmonica player Kim Simmonds, the only constant member throughout Savoy Brown’s existence. He’s the heart of the band, and while his voice has lost some power, it’s still interesting. And his guitar playing is equally compelling. What he’s lost in speed and finesse, he’s made up for in clever, heartfelt lyricism, much the same way hockey player Jaromir Jagr’s (1,733 NHL games) style evolved as he lost some of his skate speed. You don’t hear Simmonds and think about what’s no longer there, though. Instead you hear a guitarist able to cut to the heart of a solo with an appropriate number of notes.
The title track is a fast 12-bar blues with plenty of rock bombast. Simmonds’ voice is weary, reflecting the theme of the chorus, “Ain’t done yet.” But as much as the vocal sounds like someone successfully pushing past fatigue, his guitar solo is high-energy, flitting through the song, using string bends and melodic quotes to do the work of note flurries. “Jaguar Car” uses the John Lee Hooker/ZZ Top “La Grange” riff. Simmonds borrows a little bit of Billy Gibbons signature vocal grit, but keeps things blues-centered with some nice harmonica work and rhythmic slide guitar. It’s a boogie that takes its time unfurling. “Rocking in Louisiana” features a Creedence Clearwater Revival hiccup of a groove, a cool acoustic slide part, and a strong Simmonds vocal performance, here sounding like he might be from the American South and not southern Wales.
The album has the relaxed energy of a band that knows what to do and isn’t trying to prove anything. Simmonds is still a strong performer and songwriter, supported by the steady rhythm section of Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnet Grimm on drums. Savoy Brown has been around for so long because Simmonds understands his audience, but also the blues. It makes sense that he still makes solid albums; if they weren’t any good, people would have stopped buying them long ago. It’s the same reason the U.S. elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt President a record four times: people return for quality.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Ain’t Done Yet
– Rocking in Louisiana
– River on the Rise
– Jaguar Car
The Big Hit
– Jaguar Car
Review by Steven Ovadia