Blues Bytes


January 2018

Jimmy Carpenter
Plays The Blues
VizzTone Records

Jimmy Carpenter

Editor's Note: Graham Clarkes' review of this fine album by Jimmy Carpenter was chosen for the Flashback feature not because it's an older album now being re-released, as is usually the case for this section of the site. Instead, it's a personal flashback for me as I knew Jimmy and used to see him regularly with his band The Alkaphonics when I lived in Greensboro, North Carolina back in the 1980s. I'm glad that Jimmy is still blowing his sax. It's great to hear his music again.  --- Bill Mitchell

A 35+year veteran of the blues scene, you might say Jimmy Carpenter knows a thing or two about the blues. Since the early 1980s, Carpenter has played sax for Jimmy Thackery, Tinsley Ellis, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Eric Lindell, the Honey Island Swamp Band, and most recently his longtime buddy Mike Zito ---- all while managing to release a few solo recordings of his own in the process. It was Zito who encouraged Carpenter to make a “no frills, straight-up” blues sax record for his next recording. Well, that’s just what Carpenter has done with his latest VizzTone release, Jimmy Carpenter Plays The Blues.

In the liner notes, Zito writes that he first heard Carpenter with Thackery in 1999 and was enthralled by the sax/guitar interplay between the pair. However, Zito himself was never able to find that sound with anyone else. He finally realized that the sound was more about Carpenter than the saxophone, and that he knew how to play in a manner that complemented guitarists. Zito produced the disc and backs Carpenter on guitar, but also includes several other guest guitarists, including Tinsley Ellis, Tony D of MonkeyJunk, John Del Toro Richardson, and Anders Osborne.

Eight of the ten tracks on ….Plays The Blues are covers. They include Magic Sam’s rousing “You Belong To Me” (with Tony D on guitar), the Willie Dixon standard “Too Late” (with guests Lewis Stephens on organ and Dave Keyes on piano), Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” (featuring Richardson), and the Freddie King/Sonny Thompson instrumental “Surf Monkey” (with some nice interplay between Carpenter and Ellis).

There’s also a stirring reading of Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come” (with Osborne) and King Curtis’ “Preach.” On both of these tracks, Carpenter gives an instrumental shout-out to Curtis, a R&B sax pioneer who left this world much too soon. Zito, who backs Carpenter on all these tracks, steps up to take the mic for a terrific reading of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love (I Miss Lovin’).” The closer is a soulful take on Junior Walker's Motown classic “Shotgun.”

Carpenter includes a pair of original tracks in the set. On the instrumental “Jimmy Plays the Blues,” he does just that, subtly backed by Marc Adams (organ) and Zito; it's.five minutes of slow blues heaven. In contrast, “Kid In My Head” is two and a half minutes of rollicking rock n’ roll punctuated by Stephens’ piano, reminding us that despite what it says on our drivers’ licenses, we’re all still kids at heart.

When it all wraps up, Jimmy Carpenter Plays The Blues is exactly what Mike Zito requested in the beginning ---- ”a no frills, straight-up blues album.” Blues fans will definitely not be disappointed with the final results. In fact, they may be playing it over and over for a while. This is as good as the “straight-up” blues gets.

--- Graham Clarke


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