Mr. Rock 'n' Soul

BLUES REVUE #74 Feb/March 2002

Two years ago, singer and piano player Curley Bridges’ debut "Keys To The Blues" hit with a bang, decades after he recorded as featured vocalist with the Frank Motley Crew. The Toronto resident, who grew up in a musical family in North Carolina and learned to play by watching boogie-woogie legends like" Roll em" Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, has followed up with an album that demonstrates his mastery, as the title promises, of blues, rock and soul.

"Mr Rock ‘n’ Soul practically demands a party. Bridges and his band are so transparently having fun that listeners can’t help but fall in line. "I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town" usually a slow blues, comes out swingin’ hard in a mid-tempo treatment. "Little Red Rooster" gets a similar kick start. "Suite: Watermelon" breaks down Herbie Hancock’s oft-covered " Watermelon Man" into a hard grooving jazzy trip. "My Girl Josephine", "Ya Ya", and "What Am I Living For" add Louisiana flavour, respectively rocking, good time and heartfelt. During the title cut, the band slams the beat home behind Bridges’ vocal; the guitar break moving from tremolo picking to rhythmic punches, teeters on the edge of disaster but winds up on the side of abandon rather than trainwreck. When the pace slows, as on "You’re The One", Bridges has no trouble carrying the song; His vocal is strong and wise, and his piano unites Chicago blues with gospel chording.

Producer Andrew Galloway gets super performances from the players, and Alec Fraser’s mix preserves a lively room sound. The combo comes across as full and fat, while the arrangements retain a welcome airiness. Bucky Berger (drums) and Victor Bateman (upright bass) maintain righteous rhythms, Pat Carey’s sax adds R&B credibility, Dan Whiteley is just right on guitar. Chris Whiteley’s contributions on guitar, trumpet and squalling harmonica are immeasurable, Bridges’ piano work can be nimble and note-y, purely rhythmic, or a stone funky combination of both (in "Watermelon" he works an intricate groove up and down the keyboard). His singing moves from deep to jubilant, and to point out that he can maintain winking confidentiality even as he shouts a lyric only begins to describe it’s complexity. The lack of originals (apart from the title) might keep this from being one for the ages, but it’s a must-have for your next R & B bash.

Tom Hyslop