It was 50 years ago today... (actually, it was more like February 9, 1964) The Beatles made their first US television appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, which helped to kickstart the British Invasion and a musical revolution that forever changed the face of popular music.
Though the Beatles had many diverse musical influences that they incorporated into their unique sound, some of their roots were in the blues. Liverpool, the Beatles' hometown, was a major port city, so this facilitated their access to imported music from the United States, including blues, R&B, and rock 'n' roll. The Beatles were also influenced by early rock 'n' roll performers, particularly Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley, all of whom had their roots in the blues. As they developed, the Beatles incorporated blues into their music by way of rock 'n' roll on their early records and later as they returned to a more roots-oriented sound in the late 1960s. After their breakup, the Beatles individually maintained ties to the blues to varying degrees; for instance, John Lennon's "It's So Hard" and "Well, Well, Well" are very blues-oriented performances and Ringo Starr played drums with Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, and most recently, on Kenny Wayne Shepherd's latest album, Goin' Home.
In honour of the Beatles' first US television appearance and their subsequent impact on popular music, the May 24 edition of Señor Blues will be mostly focused on the Beatles and their unique connection to the blues. Tune in from 7-9am on May 24 to hear blues/R&B/rock 'n' roll artists performing Beatles classics, the blues/rock 'n' roll roots of the Beatles, and, of course, the Beatles themselves playing some blues, both as a group and as solo artists. "A splendid time is guaranteed for all!"
The Robert Cray Band’s new album, In My Soul, is, in a word, soulful; the feel of the music contained within is actually very much rooted in soul music and R&B (as well as the blues, of course), which Robert Cray has specialized in since he first burst onto the blues/pop scene in the early 1980s. This, along with the strong songwriting and covers, impeccable musicianship (with several new members of the Robert Cray Band in tow), and crisp production work by drummer/producer extraordinaire Steve Jordan, makes In My Soul my favourite Robert Cray album. Period.
The Robert Cray Band kicks things off with “You Move Me”, an uptempo soul/R&B workout in the vein of classic Stax recordings from the 60s (with a catchy bass-line somewhat reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb”). Right off the bat, Cray’s vocals convey a yearning quality that works well with the song’s subject line. His guitar work is nimble as ever, but on this album, his Strat tone rocks with a bit more dirt than usual (although the EPK shows Cray occasionally wielding a hollowbody electric guitar – not an instrument I had previously associated with his sound!). It’s different from his cleaner work from the 80’s and 90’s for sure, but it adds more blues grit to the sound.
Other highlights for me include: “Hold On”, a smooth R&B ballad with some interesting chord changes, a passionate vocal, and a moody atmosphere that fits the song to a tee; “I Guess I’ll Never Know”, a mid-tempo R&B groove with some tortured-sounding lead guitar and reggae/dub-esque horns; “Pillow”, the bonus track (at least on the Deluxe Edition of the album), which features some jazz-like chord progressions and a sweet, soft vocal delivery by Cray; and “Deep In My Soul”, which is a Bobby “Blue” Bland tune, and serves not only as the title of the album but also as Cray’s heartfelt tribute to the legendary blues singer, who passed away in 2013. The only song I did not care for as much was “What Would You Say”; it’s not a bad song at all, but its acoustic alt country-esque vibe clashes with the urban R&B sounds heard elsewhere on the record.
I could go on forever talking about how much I love this album more and more with every spin. Instead, let me just finish by saying that In My Soul is a sure-fire contender for the Señor Blues Best Album of 2014… honour. Tune into Señor Blues every other Saturday morning to hear more of this fine new blues release as well as many other blues songs, both new and vintage!