[15 July 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
“Write about what you know”, they say. Lucky Peterson is, literally, the son of a bluesman. So he wrote a song called “The Son of a Bluesman” and named an album after it. The lyrics start off a little corny, describing how the musical genre was basically waiting for him from birth. But one line at the end of the first stanza stands out: “I didn’t choose the blues, the blues chose me”. In other words, he can’t help himself. “The Son of a Bluesman” is one of the handful of songs on the album that follows the tried-and-blue 12-bar blues format. No matter how much Peterson sidesteps that old standby, you can bet anything that he’ll dip right back into it. The Son of a Bluesman‘s title track lays it out all on the table. It’s got urban grit, soulful lead guitar work, a Hammond organ that swallows the empty space and a tale of James Peterson’s death and Lucky’s redemption. He may want to cover “I Can See Clearly Now”, but he can’t help but play dirty blues now and then.
The Son of a Bluesman isn’t a fancy affair. He doesn’t shuffle around an exotic guest roster like Henry Threadgill, Bill Laswell and Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey as he did on his 2003 album Black Midnight Sun. This album has many guests, but they’re all concisely tailored towards Peterson’s brand of blues, soul and funk. Remon Hearn’s Hammond organ particularly gives the music that homely tingle in which blues fans take comfort. Wilson Pickett’s “Funky Broadway” takes a footnote from the book of P-Funk, making no attempt to disguise the lack of a Delta sound. “Nana Jarnell” is a mostly instrumental slow jam, featuring guitar lines that almost sound like David Gilmour on a blues pilgrimage. And that “I Can See Clearly Now” cover? There’s nothing adult contemporary about it this time. Peterson took the song for a Mississippi dip, dried it off, then took it into the city for a night of dancing. His cover of Bobby Bland’s “I Pity the Fool” starts off an easy swaying waltz in 12-bars. Then the horns enter and Peterson’s leads begin to burn holes in the carpet. The remaining originals wander between boogie-woogie (“Boogie Woogie Blues Joint Party”), country blues (“Joy”) an upbeat Mayall-esque instrumental jam (“You Lucky Dog”) and an opener that overstays its welcome in “Blues In My Blood”.
One quarter of the album is taken up by a Lucky Peterson original played twice, “I’m Still Here”. The track 7 version is a sultry mid-tempo slice of introspection: “Looking back over my life / I experienced a lot of things / Had my share of heartaches / I felt what joy, what joy could bring”. Track 11 is titled “I’m Still Here (Gospel)”, adding punctuation to a lyric like, “I’ve been blessed, I’ve been blessed with gifts and talents”. It’s got the choir, the vamping shout-outs to Jesus and a dynamic rise and fall that doesn’t really match the rest of the album. Both tracks are over seven minutes, meaning that this is when Peterson chooses to let it all hang out.
With The Son of a Bluesman, Lucky Peterson keeps on rolling. He continues to bang together the soulful funk of what he wants to do and the hard blues of what’s been in him since the beginning. Neither side really wins out, which means we all get to enjoy another rich collection of Lucky Peterson recordings.