Friday, April 26, 2013

Billy Boy Arnold - Back Where I Belong

Billy Boy Arnold never became the household name that many other Chicago blues stars did, and that is a damn pity because his talents lay up there with the best. He was one of the first bluesmen to actually be born in Chicago (as opposed to moving up from the south) and he was tutored by none other than the original Sonny Boy Williamson. He worked with Bo Diddley - authoring "Diddley Daddy" and recording "I'm a Man" and "Bo Diddley" - before moving on to a solo career on Vee Jay records. But stardom never came his way and he eventually settled into day jobs and played more for a hobby than a living.

But on this, a 1992 Alligator Records comeback album, he shows that he was still as strong as ever. Backed by a group of LA blues musicians (Guitarist Zach Zunis, pianist Andy Kaulkin, bassist Tom Leavey and drummer Lee Smith), they plow through some terrific numbers.

Of course, the song Arnold is best known for is "I Wish You Would", due to the innumerable cover versions by r'n'r bands, and this is the opener here and it is a stomper! "Move on Down the Road" owes more than a little to Chuck Berry's "Almost Grown" (nothing wrong with that!) and it gives all of the players a chance to stretch out and strut their stuff. They slow things down for a sultry blues in "Fine Young Girl" but then swing back into a groove with "You Got Me Wrong" and "Fool For You" (with hints of "Scratch My Back").

Continuing to mine his Chicago roots, "Wandering Eye" is "borrowed" from "Hootchie Kootchie Man" and then they really get jumpin' with Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips", giving Arnold a chance to really blow. Zunis' guitar comes to the forefront a bit more in "Whiskey, Beer & Reefer" cutting some sharp riffs around Billy's harp. "Prisoner's Plea" is a re-make from Billy Boy's Vee Jay years (thought it sounded familiar!) but given a new rhythm - just enough of a twist to make it fresh.

"High Fashion Woman" is a fine, mid-tempo blues groove decrying the overly skinny female form while they slow down again for "Young and Evil", telling the age-old tale of an unfaithful woman, which again gives everyone some room to move. "Shake the Boogie" is a pretty self-explanatory boogie-blues, while pianist Kaulkin gets to highlight some barrelhouse piano work in the standard "Worried Life Blues" and then they close the proceedings with Arnold's "Streetwise Advisors" - giving advise to the youngsters over a uptempo blues with some hot guitar.

It's a shame that Billy Boy never really got his due, but he has left behind a great body of work and has forever influenced r'n'r and blues musicians. This is a good 'un!