Saturday, June 21, 2008

Live in Chicago reviewed by Mark Thompson

Live in Chicago
Dave Specter
Delmark Records
DVD format/87 minutes
Also available on CD

The latest release in Delmark’s on-going series of DVDs that document key musicians on the label’s roster features guitarist Dave Specter and several of his friends backed by a superb band. Brother John Kattke handles the keyboards while drummer Marty Binder and Harlan Terson on bass form a tight rhythm section. Collectively, these veteran musicians have backed some of the biggest names in Chicago blues – including Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Lonnie Brooks and Junior Wells. The disc captures performances from consecutive evenings last summer at two of the city’s finest blues clubs. The first night was filmed at Rosa’s Blues Lounge followed by a show at Buddy Guy’s Legends.

Specter has spent much of his career blending different musical styles together in an effort to break free from the standard 12-bar blues format. One will hear elements of jazz, soul, funk and even country in the eclectic blend of his original music.

The opening track from Legends is a medley of two Specter tunes, “Boss Funk/Riverside
Ride”. The combination allows the band to quickly settle into a funky groove reminiscent of the Meters or Booker T & the Mgs, two of Specter’s influences. Dave displays his dynamic guitar playing followed by Brother John cuttin’ loose on the keyboards.

There are three other Specter instrumentals on the disc that serve as interludes between the featured guests. “Texas Top” pays homage to the many fine guitar slingers from the Lone Star state. Specter explores his jazz influences on “The Hollywood Park Shuffle” and “Is What It Is”, his tasteful guitar work riding the strong support from the expert rhythm section.

The first featured guest is Tad Robinson, who has recorded with Specter several times. His soulful vocal style and chromatic harmonica playing make his original, “What Love Did To Me’, one of the highlights of the disc. On “How I Got to Memphis”, Robinson’s impassioned vocal convincingly conveys the heartache in Tom T. Hall’s lyrics.

The energy raises up several more notches when Jimmy Johnson takes the stage, stating “I like blues, barbeque and pretty girls!”. He then proceeds to tear through “Out on the Road”, his pleading vocal matching his taut guitar licks. The enthusiastic performance continues on “Feel So Bad”, with Specter and Johnson each contributing strong solos. The sequence finishes with a spirited take on the classic “You Don’t Love Me’, with Brother John getting another chance to display his prodigious ability on keyboards.

Sharon Lewis has a big, brawny voice that provides a stark contrast to Specter’s intricate guitar lines. She storms her way through her original tune ”In Too Deep”, shouting out defiance to an unfaithful lover. She closes the disc with a deeply moving performance of “Angel”, another of her compositions. Lewis did this song at the last Berghoff & Blues Festival. She had scores of people clamoring for a recording of the piece after her set but it had not been recorded yet. The song’s inclusion on this release and the companion cd should make a lot of people happy. It is a testimonial to the redemptive power of faith and serves as a powerful closing for the disc.

Included on the DVD version are three tracks that are not on the cd release. The disc gives you several choices for the audio set-up in a surround sound mode and also features a separate commentary track by Specter that discusses his career, his fellow musicians and some of the history of Chicago blues. The shows were shot with multiple cameras and the finished video product is outstanding !! You’ll think that you have a blues club in your own home.

By bringing together all of these fine musicians for this project, Delmark has created another snapshot in time of some of the great but lesser-known Chicago blues performers. Through it all, Dave Specter sparkles on guitar and provides the leadership that makes this project work so well. Be sure to check this one out !!

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