The line between blues and R & B is often so fine that casual fans of one genre frequently embrace the other. Guitar Slim Junior's Nothing Nice banks on this crossover - and cashes in - with tight horn arrangements and vintage Stax-era rhythms that bring a wealth of depth and dimension to the classic 12-bar blues idiom.
Slim Junior (aka Rodney Armstrong) is the son of Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones), who dominated the R&B charts in 1954 with "The Things I Used to Do" before his death four years later at age 32. Slim Junior, who grew up on the same New Orleans streets where his father played, has picked up the torch and is running with it.
The result is a blend of Delta blues with a variety of other strains, including R&B, soul, and even a touch of country. Far more than a guitar-bass-drums blues album, Nothing Nice is a cleanly recorded musical history lesson that starts in the Delta and makes its way north, picking up gospel and jazz inflections along the way. Slim Junior manages to capture it all with the help of multi-instrumentalist/arranger/producer Art Wheeler and the long-celebrated Memphis Horns.
"I Feel So Bad" is 12-bar blues dressed up with punchy horns, a clean, tight harp solo and shades of vintage Wilson Pickett's improv vocal style in the slow fadeout. The smoldering balad "Oo Wee Baby" has a simple, but definitive bass line and a sparse arrangement in the tradition of Booker T and the MGs. Midway through the sequence, Slim's reading of the classic "Try a Little Tenderness" brings the R&B flavor home more than any other track on the album.
Slim adds a personal touch a few times along the way, tipping his hat to his father with "Our Only Child," "I Got Sumpin for You" and the centerpiece, "The Things I Used to Do."
Wheeler's instrumental work deserves mention, if for no other reason than its versatility. In addition to arranging and co-producing with George Wayne, Wheeler plays keyboards, harp, tambourine and slide guitar. He even handles horn arrangements on "If You Think That Jive Will Do" and "I Want You."
There is a down side to Wheeler's omnipresence. The production is extravagant at times, and Slim's noteworthy guitar work is either cut short or buried altogether. But his vocals punch through loud and clear in a style that falls somewhere between Bobby Bland and Ray Charles. Slim croons and growls, conjuring up a range of emotions from the poignant to the sexually charged.
Don't be fooled by the title. There's plenty of nice music here. Purists in search of a straight blues album should look elsewhere, but those who appreciate the subtle shadings among blues, gospel, R&B and soul will enjoy this one.
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