Covering an artist’s new project, I always look for an umbilical cord that connects the artist to their album. After researching Billy Boy Arnold’s new album, The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold, the connection jumped out at me. Billy Boy Arnold’s album, his first since 2001, pays tribute to the great blues songwriters of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.
This fourteen track album, all but three numbers were composed and performed by singer/songwriters of that period. The cool part Billy Boy, a 2013 Blues Hall of Fame Artist, is part of this elite club. This list is long from B.B.King, to Chuck Berry, to Joe Tex. Many of these artists have played major roles in Billy Boy’s music career.
As an added plus, Duke Robillard produced Billy Boy’s soul album. After listening to this album, it’s clear these two musicians pair well as a team. The onset, “Coal Man,” is a number with many players. As a metaphor, Billy Boy sings, he is the “Coal Man.” “Turn your damper down low, make it burn slow.” “When I’m on your street now, you need a little heat now, just holler, coal man.” Written by Sir Mack Rice, “Coal Man” is one of many songs he wrote that includes the 60’s hit “Mustang Sally.”
However, the next track allows Billy Boy to expose his umbilical cord from the past, the boogie woogie piece, “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.” This Texas Blues number rocks so well with the guitar and piano solos as they give substantial jazz flavors to the piece. Billy Boy relishes the fusion within his numbers as he continues with “A Mother’s Prayer.” This Southern Soul piece has country, gospel, and the blues blended written by Joe Tex.
“Don’t Set Me Free,” a smooth rhythm and blues piece, is matchless for Billy Boy. Duke Robillard did an awe-inspiring job arranging the trumpet and sax on this number. The arrangement echoes the piece recorded in sixty-five by Ray Charles. As Billy Boy moves back to complacency with “What’s On the Menu,” I love Billy Boy‘s mouth organ on this track. The song is slow and sultry as the double 8th notes give the 1-4-5-1 added emphasis. This song shows Billy Boy’s talent as a transcendent songwriter. “Worried Dream” is a slow moving B.B. King number that’s another superb fit for Billy Boy. The piano solo is spot-on for this piece.
But my favorite, “(Is it you?) Nadine,” concedes Billy Boy as he thrives. Written by Chuck Berry, his first Chess Records hit since prison in sixty-four, is an awesome piece for Billy Boy. “(Is it you?) Nadine” peaked at twenty-three on Billboard that year. Billy Boy captures Berry’s vigor so well.
“Work Song.” This 1960’s jazz number is another favorite of mine was an album title for Nat Adderley, Jr. who was the co-writer of the song. Billy Boy “flirts” with jazz throughout this album.
Another piece, “Ain’t That Just like a Woman” is a piano blues based piece. The added boogie woogie number has origins of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Pinetop Smith. The raw sound coming from this 1870s Piney Woods piece is sublime.
From “You Got to Love Me” to “I Wish You Would,” Billy Boy has left his mark on the world of music. The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold is nothing more than continued success for this singer/songwriter. The Yardbirds, David Bowie, and Bo Diddley represent a few of the artists that have covered Billy Boy’s work. His music continues to shine, and will have an astounding impact for years to come. The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold is long overdue. In this writer’s opinion, the only way Billy Boy could reach beyond this album, is produce an album that tributes solely to jazz artists of the same era.
This is Billy Boy Arnold, and he has “Blues Soul.”