Album review: REESE WYNANS AND FRIENDS – Sweet Release

Reese Wynans - Sweet Release

Provogue [Release date 01.03.19]

It’s hard to dislike a guest filled covers album that beats with a southern heart, be it Texas rocking blues, white boy soul meets Muscle Shoals, or out and out Southern Rock.

But it takes the pivotal figure such as Reese Wynans to give the project its unassuming, but essential personality and coherence. ‘Sweet Release’ is in effect a career defining album for a keyboard player who has worked on the rock-blues scene and in Nashville for 50 years.

‘Sweet Release’ also celebrates the versatility of a sideman who has the ability to embrace different musical styles within the context of this album. So while there might have been a silent groan at the prospect of 4 Stevie Ray Vaughan covers, they occupy more than simply a marketing departments dream, as Reese slips from the role of subtle accompanist to a growling soloist when required, while always supporting the songs.

He occupies both modes on SRV’s moody, almost eerie ‘Riviera Paradise’, on which his organ takes the lead solo alongside two solos from Kenny Wayne Shepherd and producer Joe Bonamassa. The two guitarists intricately weave their solos into a string arrangement that expands the track’s original late night mood into a filmic, wide screen feel.

With a wide range of material and sundry guests there plenty to digest. And you could almost start with the closing grand piano piece –  McCartney’s  ’Blackbird’ – which is a lesson in poise, restraint, feel and is so full of suggestion it could equally be a great way to lever us into an album full of musical diversity and plenty of flow.

Wynans is currently sideman to Joe Bonamassa who makes his production debut on an album that subtly showcases Wynans’ keyboard skills, while the guests polish a dozen covers that lead into the ‘Blackbird’ solo outro.

SRV’S legacy is in the safe hands of Double Trouble rhythm section Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, while Kenny Wayne Shepherd brings both a fiery attack and fluidity to the opening brace of ‘Crossfire’  (Sam Moore’s vocal is excellent) and the wah-wah shuffle-led instrumental ‘Say What.’

There’s enough subsequent musical diversity and spark to bring fresh life to some familiar material, of which some of the lesser known songs often impress most.

While Wynans often sticks close to many of the original arrangements, it’s when he explores a little extra, as on Les Dudek’s ‘Take The Time’ that the album really takes off.

Back in the 70′s Dudek was an in-demand session guitarist for the likes of Steve Miller, The Allman Brothers  and Boz Scaggs. His mix of rock, blues, funk, ballads and jazzy edges on his self titled 1976 debut album, came wrapped in a southern feel that is right up Reese’s street.

‘Take The Time’ was never a significant track on an album with several big hitters, but the version here gives it extra vitality.

Warren Haynes’s gritty vocal and slide guitar lights the fuse of an album that works hard to shape Reese’s career defining material into a meaningful whole.

And while the allure of the SRV connection will undoubtedly draw people to the album, it’s on the more soulful edged material that Wynans is best suited.

Willie Mitchell’s sax led ‘That Driving Beat’, stays very close to the original – right down to the harmony vocals – while the choice of Otis Rush’s ‘You’re Killing My Love’, draws a fine evocative vocal from special guest Doyle Bramhall 11. His guitar fills either side of some busy horn stabs and Wynans’ ascending organ solo leads to a big toned Mike Bloomfield style tension release.

The Boz Scaggs penned title track features no less than 8 lead vocalists, and their contrasting phrasing embodies that timeless Muscle Shoals sound and blue-eyed soul of Van Morrison.

Then there the celebratory piano stomp of Robbie Robertson’s ‘The Shape I’m In’, notable for the contrast between Noah Hunt’s husky vocal and Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s lighter timbre, as Reese boogie’s on before a triple guitar feast.

Joe Bonamassa’s gnarled vocal and linear guitar lines sit neatly alongside Wynans’ busy fills and expressive solo, while Mike Henderson adds an earthy harp tone on the bluesy ‘So Much Trouble’.

Wynans further revels on some rolling piano on ‘I’ve Got A Right To Be Blue’, a stripped down duet with Keb Mo and he’s in his element on the double organ and horn lines of the funky instrumental ‘Soul Island’, which combines elemental cool with Josh Smith’s jazz guitar solo over a crisp rhythm section.

‘Sweet Release’ is the triumph of musical inspiration over it’s special guests and covers format. If Reese Wynans seems unfazed by his shifting role, credit must go to Joe Bonamassa. His sterling production job gets everyone playing to their potential and he’s also the catalyst in bringing the ultimate sideman centre stage. As a result Southern roots music never sounded so refreshed. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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