Worker of the Guitar
The opener, the title track, is a protest song. Why not! Nothing pretentious or indirect about this little big man. “It’s been seventeen years”, Guitar Shorty sings elsewhere, and he still feels new and she hasn’t changed! Why shouldn’t he? God bless his Muse, why should she have? His preference for blues ballads probably has something to do with the quality of his playing on them. I suppose he has lots of technique, but he has the other more important thing too.
Jake Andrews is a great brass section on heavy-distortion (so-called) rhythm guitar. Harmony guitar would be a better name, and just to confirm this there’s one unblueslike and very pretty intro, before the band digs into the standard schtick here, which presumably they play for better reasons than having no alternative. Why diffuse or dilute the stuff with peacock excesses of variety getting into it?
“I Got Your Number” Shorty sings at a woman: apparently her number’s 666. He may indeed have the blues in his blood, as he sings on an autobiographical track (travelling Route 66, Interstate 5 —safer than the three sixes), since unlike some other current recordings of non-twelve-bar songs which claim the title of blues, the stuff here’s of the same sort Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf recorded. Shorty has the hearty earthiness and sometimes coarseness of these masters, for all that he calls himself a “Sonic Boom”.
That phrase could, of course, mean not just the noise of a plane going through the sound barrier, but a great bounty in the form of sound: not volume, but a profusion of the musically desirable. Well, old William Moore eighty years ago claimed to be a ragtime millionaire (an even more elderly song), and if Shorty’s blues bank balance doesn’t run into six figures, he’s solvent in confidence and has a happy self-irony of spending change.
I could imagine “You Got a Fine Cadillac” being sung by Muddy Waters, who had even more confidence, and a better voice than almost any bluesman except Johnny Shines. Shorty sounds like a deeper voiced B.B. King: a congenial musical bellow. “What Good Is Life?” None, without good lovin’! Does he actually ask the lady (he thinks she thinks she’s a lady, and she gets no marks for housework) to give some meaning to their (no reference intended, one supposes, to singers of that name) “king-size bed”?
If you want subtlety, go elsewhere. Might as well expect a T-Bone steak in a vegan joint, or bourbon or Guinness on a menu of low-calorie yoghurt drinks. Sometimes he does produce sounds I don’t remember hearing from any other guitarist: on “Fine Cadillac” there’s a vigorous conversion of effects into virtuoso parody, pseudo-yodelling strings!
“Cost of Livin’” could be called traditional, since his examples of poverty reintroduce the old woman who lived in a shoe, and then the three little pigs, whose problems were caused by what Shorty is clearly aware was a metaphorical big bad wolf. He doesn’t mention the gender or the name of the monster, just that it was a hurricane.
// Notes from the Road
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