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January 1997

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Son Seals
Spontaneous Combustion
Alligator Records

Whenever I make a trip to Chicago, the first thing I do is check the club listings to see where Son Seals is playing. Yes, I know that there are dozens of fine blues bands in Chicago. But something keeps drawing me back to this cat. The sheer intensity of his live performances always has me glued to the front of the stage watching and listening closely to this master of contemporary Chicago blues.

With that said, you can imagine my delight when Alligator came out with Spontaneous Combustion, Seals' eighth 'Gator release and second live album. This one features his current working band, and was recorded over a three day period last summer at Buddy Guy's Legends nightclub.

Spontaneous Combustion kicks off with a rollicking version of the Harold Burrage-written blues standard "Crying For My Baby." Seals' version spotlights the band's two-man horn section to good effect, and lets you know right away that this disc is going to move you. Seals then reprises "Don't Pick Me For Your Fool," an intense guitar-driven tune originally released on the 1984 album Bad Axe, which is still my favorite Seals disk.

On "No, No Baby," Seals begs with his baby to come back home. But you could cut the vocals out of this song and still get the same basic feeling, as the guitar riffs plead right along with the singer.

A frequent theme that Seals has used in his songs is to talk about a better life "back home," where the living conditions are better, the women "got some meat on their bones," etc., etc. The best cut on Spontaneous Combustion uses the same theme on the despairing "Landlord At My Door." Seals' best guitar work can be found here.

Closing out Spontaneous Combustion is a great version of Tampa Red's "Don't Lie To Me." Seals turns up the tempo on this tune, sending the crowd at the live show back out onto Wabash Street in a dancing mood.

Unlike many live recordings, the sound quality on Spontaneous Combustion is studio quality. You'd never know it was recorded in a club if not for the occasional unobtrusive crowd noise. If you can't make it to Chi-town any time soon, Spontaneous Combustion is a good substitute for the real thing. Turn the lights down low, break open an Old Style, close your eyes, and crank up the headphones. You'll swear you're right there in the front row groovin' away to one of Chicago's best!

- Bill Mitchell

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