Album review: SOLOMON HICKS – Carrying On The Torch Of The Blues

SOLOMON HICKS – Carrying On The Torch Of The Blues

Organic Recordings [Release date 08.06.15]

20 year old Solomon Hicks is a self proclaimed ‘jazz & blues innovator and keeper of the legacy’, who as his album title suggests is ‘Carrying On The Torch Of The Blues’.

The guitar playing blues vocalist hails from Harlem and is variously known to his fans as King Solomon and the young B.B. King.  He has plenty to live up to, but he’s a young, versatile talent equally happy playing blues, jazz R&B and funk.

He’s also ominously described as an entertainer, but it simply means he’s more than just a po-faced shoe gazer who pulls painful faces while he solos.  He’s a Jazz Excellence award/scholarship winner with an engaging vocal timbre and expressive phrasing well suited to several big band arrangements.

‘Carrying On The Torch Of The Blues’ is good in parts.  Solomon is a vibrant singer and eloquent guitarist with a big tone, but he’s still discovering the value of space and dynamics.

He’s at his best when subtly interlocking with his Hammond playing producer Jeff Levine and the band as a whole, but his vocals are less convincing on the misguided slow blues arrangement of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and the strangely detached version of Willie Dixon’s ‘My Babe’.  Both covers lack conviction and are the only two examples of poor sequencing on an album that ebbs, flows and only occasionally dips.

The big band swagger of ‘You Don’t Want Me Anymore’ provides the perfect opener and succinctly showcases Solomon’s resonant tone and confident vocal. He teams up with guest harp player Southside Johnny on a well heeled cover of ‘Homework’. Solomon adds a muscular solo and swaps intense licks with Southside worthy of his own exclamatory rap on the outro.

The title track is his de facto mission statement, on which he references his various blues heroes including Freddie King: “Freddie King was a friend of mine though I never saw him play.”

The big band arrangement features a rasping solo from Jake Clemons and a lovely moment when Hick’s ascending guitar line seamlessly meshes with Clemons’s sax.

Solomon Hicks does indeed carry the torch of the blues with real gusto and a vibrato that belies his tender years. He revels on the swing blues of ‘Jukin’ At The Cotton Club’ – full of stabbed horns and a sinewy guitar line over a thumping rhythm section – but then loses his way on a sludgy version of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, on which he struggles to find the space for his licks and has to work hard to make his vocal presence tell.

There’s a Johnny Guitar Watson feel to the Jeff Levine penned and wah-wah injected ‘Fooling Around’, while the hesitant intro to ‘I Want To See You Again’ is ripped asunder by his coruscating guitar line on a soulful arrangement that is given a pristine mix by Springsteen’s sound engineer Toby Scott

The New Orleans influenced ‘The Hook Of Love’ features a a clean toned guitar solo and Rick Brunermer on baritone, while ‘I Never Thought’ is a Hicks/Levine stop-time shuffle reminiscent of Sonny Thompson’s ‘I’m Tore Down’ and is possibly the first song on the album on which Hick’s guitar work fails to bring anything new to the album..

In sharp contrast, he successfully revisits Buddy Miles’s slice of cool Hammond-led blues on ‘Paul B. Allen, Omaha, Nebraska Pt. II’. His impeccable touch and tone is matched by Levine’s Hammond playing which fills the track with real purchase.

There are enough musical highlights on this album to confirm that Solomon Hicks is on the up escalator. He’s a fine guitarist and vocalist who surrounds himself with a stellar cast of cross-generational musicians and a producer who knows how to channel his youthful dynamism.

‘Carrying On The Torch Of The Blues’ is about four strong songs short of realizing its lofty ambitious title, but it is still fine second album by a major up and coming blues talent.  ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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