Album review: CURTIS SALGADO – Soul Shot

Alligator Records

Curtis Salgado is the latest in a raft of American blues artists who are re-exploring their soul roots. And he’s well qualified to do so with a career that has included stints with Robert Cray and The Roomful of Blues. And yet given his work with The Nighthawks and his influence on the Blues Brothers you might have anticipated something a little bluesier.

Fast forward to the present then as he joins the current American soul renaissance or perhaps white boy blues suddenly just got middle aged? Either way Curtis Salgado’s ‘Soul Shot’ is a classy album with 10 selections on which he does exactly what he sets out to do, which is to make the material his own.

Curtis surrounded himself with a top notch band including Mike Finnigan on keys, Jimmy Hughes on piano, plus drummer/producer Tony Braunagel and a horn section led by sax player Joe Sublet that plays a major role in most of the arrangements. The self penned ‘Love Comfort Zone’ is a primary example with a fine vocal performance and deftly arranged horns on a song with radio appeal.

Curtis’s eloquent phrasing brings a wide range of feelings to an album that flows and references soul, funk, blues and gospel.  But if there’s a drawback it is simply that his silky smooth soulful style and some forgettable lyrics fail to sufficiently engage the listener emotionally. And in that respect the inclusion of Johnny Guitar Watson’s ’Strung Out’ is something of a give away, because much like the earlier mid-tempo funky groove of  ‘Nobody But You’ , we’re close to a late 70’s vibe, when soul and funk barely stayed out of the clutches of disco.

On the busy ‘Gettin’ To Know You’, Curtis plays a delightful but belated harp solo which just about rescues a song that isn’t sure about where it’s going. You can understand how Curtis got to this point, as he’s probably looking for a niche to suit his crossover style and he ticks all the relevant boxes, opening with the up tempo ‘What You Gonna Do’, and explores some gentle funk on the afore mentioned ‘Getting To Know You’.

He further adds the sophisticated ‘Baby Let Me Take You In My Arms’, which could have come from a latter day Steely Dan album. His real problem is evident on ‘Let Me Make Love To You’ on which even a mighty vocal can’t overcome some clichéd lyrics on a ballad too far.  Then there’s the cheesy girly bv’s and Stevie Wonder harp on the undulating funk of the self penned ‘He Played His Harmonica’, which is from another era another. You can’t help but feel he should be looking beyond the MOR confines of a song like this.

Happily the CD finishes on a high note with the gospel ‘A Woman Or The Blues’, which includes the poignant line; ‘a man comes to a crossroads deciding which way to go, either way there’s hell to pay, you got to carry the load’, before he delivers a brief, warm toned harp flurry as the album works towards a welcome call and response finale. **** (4/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra

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