Thursday, November 22, 2012

Weekly Musicality

Although women had made their mark on the charts in country and western almost since its earliest recordings, Gail Davies scored a first when she started producing her own records for Warner Brothers in 1979 -- she may have been the first woman to produce for a major label in Nashville. The daughter of musician Tex Dickerson and the father of former BR5-49 co-vocalist Chris Scruggs, Davies had her strongest run in the late 1970s and 1980s. Wild Choir, a 1986 project listed as performed by  the band of that name, is heavily dominated by Davies' vocals and Davies-written songs.

There's plenty of Nashville flavor through the album, but Davies took advantage of the different setting to play around with some New Wave and dance-influenced tunes and arrangements. "Girl on a String" and "I Don't Wanta Hold Your Hand" could bring plenty of big hair and skinny ties out on the dance floor, and the keyboard backgrounds of "Never Cross that Line" match up with any synth-heavy Madonna ballad of the time.

The genre called "alt-country" was still a few years in the future, and probably wound up drawing more from punk influences than from the dance-oriented pep of New Wave. But Wild Choir is a good preview of the reality that musical genre lines could be crossed and that the product could be very interesting.
Son Seals had a voice and a guitar-playing style that were completely his own even though they were deeply steeped in traditional Chicago blues. He was consistently inventive, meshing his blues instincts with funk's rhythms in 1976's Midnight Son and submerging them in a jazzy backrgound in 1984's Bad Axe. Spontaneous Combustion, a set recorded n 1996 at Buddy Guy's Legends club in Chicago, is an excellent introduction to both Seals the artist and the performer.

A good portion of modern electric blues focuses so heavily on guitar solos that the songs themselves get buried in an avalanche of over-picking. But although Seals flashes plenty of string skills, he rarely lets the soloing get away from him or get in the way of the song itself. Not every solo has to be loud and lightning fast; the slower and mellower showcases are just as important depending on the songs.

From the growling roar of "Don't Pick Me for Your Fool" to the horn-supported groove of "Landlord at My Door," Seals powers through a dozen of his own compositions as well as some great covers. The set may lack some of his standards, such as "Bad Axe" itself, or "I'm Going Home" and "Buzzard Luck" or the instrumental "Hot Sauce," but the lack is just a good excuse to pick up more Son Seals albums, and I find it hard to consider that a bad idea.

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