Alligator [Released 18.08.14]
Elvin Bishop’s albums are like the welcome return of a long lost friend. Of course he’s never really been away, save for the 7 year recording gap in the 80’s, but his post-Alligator comeback years have been marked by a laid back, good-time vibe, in sharp contrast to the twin guitar intensity he shared with Mike Bloomfield in Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band.
The fire may have dampened to embers, but the subtlety of his tones and the band’s instrumental interplay is almost as impressive as the songs themselves.
Elvin’s unique style has been cryptically described as ‘low-down and uplifting’ by the Chicago Sun-Times and ‘Can’t Even Do Wrong Right’ explores his early blues roots in the company of fellow Butterfield band member Charlie Musselwhite and former Starship singer Mickey Thomas (also vocalist on Elvin’s signature song ‘Fooled Around & Fell In Love’).
Just past the album’s halfway point he humorously reflects on old age on the self explanatory ‘Everybody’s In The Same Boat’ and from then on in, the album becomes a more rootsy affair with elements of country, cajun, and a live rock & roll outro.
He’s not so much run out of steam, as simply found a coherent retro thread to glue the album together. The material is explored with real affection and inspired playing, but songs such as the self penned ‘Dancin’ sound like a celebratory after thought, though Elvin’s croaky voice does have an undeniably engaging quality.
He voices the title track’s humorous narrative over a fat groove which sets a template for the rest of the album. Elvin is clearly serious about his music, if not the situation his Cheech & Chong style characters find themselves in.
He’s joined by Mickey Thomas on harmony vocals on ‘Blues With a Feeling’ which has a nice loose and stripped down feel, but with potent double guitar lines and a startling fat tone on the solo.
‘Old School’ is a lo-fi highlight with a thematic thread that complements the later ‘Everybody’s In The Same Boat’. It’s got a Bo Diddley beat, some Charlie Musselwhite wailing harp, dirt sounding guitar tone and a minimalist arrangements, anchored by deft brush strokes: “I go the club don’t want no DJ jive, I like my real music up close and live.”
The song finishes with a humorous rap between Charlie and Elvin: “Superman would have a hell of a time finding a place to change these days.” Charlie: “What you talking about?” Elvin: “No phone booth.”
No sooner has he declared himself old school and the band slips into a soulful ballad ‘Let Your Woman Have Her Way’, with Micky Thomas’s on vocals. ‘No More Doggin’ glistens with instrumental slide and harp-led tonal subtleties, and make you wonder why Elvin and Charlie haven’t worked together more often in recent times.
The album smoulders, smokes and ultimately beguiles you with another instrumental ‘Honest I Do’ before finishing with a couple of nuggets. There’s a cover of Fats Domino’s ‘Bo Weevil’, full of harmony guitars and accordion, and a quantum leap back to the birth of rock and roll on the live jump, boogie and swing of Lionel Hampton’s ‘Hey-Ba-Ba-Re-Bop’.
It’s a poignant musical post script with a subtext which suggests the band may be old school but they can still rock. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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