Billy Boy Arnold penned the Chicago classics I Wish You Would and I Ain't Got You, songs covered by a list of musicians longer than your arm. He also was the cat playing harp on Bo Diddley's 1955 I'm a Man, a blues standard, if not definitive then goddamned close to it. A couple years ago, recording his 2012 Blue and Lonesome, he recruited none other than T.S. McPhee & the Groundhogs, one of my fave ol' blues-psych-rock outfits from the late 60s. Arnold was 77 at the time, so how damned hip was that? On the Stony Plain label, the same one this CD appears within, Rory Block has released a series of five drop dead killer tributes to blues greats who have passed on, but labelmate Duke Robillard decided it was high time to also keep the cats still kickin' out the jams in the public eye, so he produced The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold.
The CD's kind of a walk back to that great old London Sessions series of the 70s teaming up rock legends with blues masters for sets of tunes reinvigorating interest in the men who'd helped create rock and roll. No, you won't hear Rory Gallagher, Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, or any of the estimable menagerie that participated in that very successful parade, but you will get the Duke, Mark Texeira, Bruce Bears, and several other rock steady gentz backing Arnold as he lays down a generous 14-spot of laid back, friendly, c'mon-n-have-a-sip-of-this-whiskey-with-me renditions of his own and others' comps.
Don't Set Me Free, however, gets spunky and jive-footed, Billy Boy's singing still cool as a cucumber as the instruments ramp up and background singers step in. Robillard has deep sympathies with Arnold's wide palette of styles, Duke a modern day master of many himself, from swing to jump to rock to blues and all points in between, so he was the perfect cat to head the project up, intent that the now-79-year old keep his presence front and center. More, a stock of solid solos from each, guitar and harmonica, is a mainstay of the release, neither wasting a note, anchored to the floor like two Gibralters while straining at the leash, steamships ready to ply the Mississippi.
The pair's take on B.B. King's Worried Dream is jaw-droppingly Fleetwood Mac-ish, from back when Peter Green was in his glory, a version as though from the old Blue Horizon label, Mike Vernon at the controls. The do-up of Chuck Berry's Nadine is just as hip—nothing fancy, just a great faithful rendition that rocks, rocks, rocks. One can almost picture Robillard duck walking in the studio. Arnold's own Keep on Rubbing is an oddly but happily metered six-minuter that closes the CD with a combination of bawdy refrains offsetting anecdotal narrative kind of like Clarence Carter's Strokin' and Berry's My Dingaling…and I suspect it just might provoke the same kinda Republican prudery Robert Christgau fired at Chuck's delightful ribaldry way back when. Great!!! Not only is the humorous, sly, mellifluous, grand bluesmeister Arnold still producing top-drawer work, he's also managing to irk the Bowdlers and churchy prudes among us as well. Would that we all could say the same.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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