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Musician: Savoy Brown

Audio CD (November 8, 2011)



It wasn’t until their seventh studio album, Street Corner Talking (1971), that I discovered the British blues of Savoy Brown. Before and after this nugget, they were never high-fliers on the U.S. charts, but “Tell Mama” hooked me--and I wasn’t alone. Most folks I knew had Looking In or Raw Sienna or Street Corner Talking in their collections and these albums all sounded different. The reasons were obvious for those who looked at the credits on the covers. They were never the same.

While rooted in American blues, the continual line-up changes in Savoy Brown has meant the fluid guitar work of Kim Simmonds has been the only constant in the group. 45 years ago their first album, Shake Down, was a collection of covers of songs by the likes of Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker; celebrating their anniversary, the new incarnation of Savoy Brown takes the music full circle. However, the lyrics demonstrate this band has its own blues to sing.

The nine original tracks on Voodoo Moon feature Simmonds on electric guitar, Joe Whiting (vocals/sax), Pat DeSalvo (bass), and Garnet Grimm (drums). While it’s not surprising anymore to hear a new release was largely recorded in a home studio, in this case Simmonds’ White Cottage Studio in upstate New York, it’s more than appropriate Voodoo Moon was shaped by a stripped-down band in very basic surroundings. Likewise, it’s more than appropriate Voodoo Moon was released by RUF Records—Moon is rough alright. It’s also raw and ragged in the best senses of those terms—just the way the electric blues should be.

For example, the set opens with the rough-edged shuffle, “Shockwaves,” followed by the more melodic “Natural Man” in which Whiting asks to be taken just as he is. The lyrics describe a man who ain’t got no Mojo, is no rolling stone, isn’t running with the devil, and is not bad to the bone. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare one blues outfit with their peers, but this collection makes obvious nods to their contemporaries and influences. For example, the group rocks out on “She's Got the Heat” evoking the slide work of folks like Johnny Winter. “Look at the Sun” and the instrumental “24/7” are reminiscent of the sax sections of John Mayall’s early Bluesbreakers. It’s easy to see why “Voodoo Moon” is the title track as it’s a rocker that reminds one, this reviewer at least, of another British blues band of the ‘60s called Savoy Brown.         

Then there’s the very basic blues of “Too Much Money” (ain’t no such thing, you know), the haunting “Round and Round,” and the albums finale, “Meet the Blues Head On.” The last track is almost the one song that doesn’t fit the flow as it pushes the blues base into a ‘70s arena rock anthem—gotta stand up and be strong to meet the blues. O.K.—maybe the lyrics are the very best way to end a collection that’s almost a blues primer.

And lovers of the blues are the folks who this album was made for. You don’t need to know the name Savoy Brown or have heard a single note from their past releases to enjoy this blues fest. I’ll admit the vocals are competent but not likely to garner much interest from Grammy folks. As always, there’s a guy on guitar who has never gotten his full due but keeps true to his roots and is well worth new appreciation. His name is Simmonds, Kim Simmonds. Sho nuff—tell mama it’s time to turn up the heat again.

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