Blues Bytes


January 2018

Curtis Salgado & Alan Hager
Rough Cut
Alligator Records

Curtis Salgado

I'm a big fan of the music of Curtis Salgado, regarding him as one of the best soulful blues singers around. Everything the Pacific Northwest singer / harmonica player has done in his long career has been top-notch. With the admiration out of the way, I'll now say that I wasn't prepared for the direction of the music on Rough Cut (Alligator) on which he's teamed up with his regular band guitarist Alan Hager. It's just these two musicians in a duo format for most of the album, just like they are sitting on a front porch on straightback chairs somewhere out in the country. While it's different from much of what Salgado has recorded, especially on his soulful, horn-driven albums on Alligator, it's still very high quality stuff over these 13 laid-back cuts.

While just under half of the songs here are original compositions, the most powerful cut on Rough Cut is their version of Muddy Waters' classic "I Can't Be Satisfied." Hager gets Muddy's slide guitar playing down right. It's just that good, while Salgado captures the primal vocals of the original. No, it's not Muddy we're hearing here, but I have to think that Mr. Morganfield would be smiling if he heard this rendition. Another favorite cover is the traditional gospel number "Morning Train," on which Salgado harmonizes with guest singer Larhonda Steele. Hager again plays fantastic slide guitar on this one, and you can't help but be heading down to the riverside after hearing this song.

Hager gets second billing in this duo (that's fair because Salgado is the bigger name), but he gets to show that he's a pretty fine singer himself when he gets to handle the vocals on the Robert Wilkins song, "Long Train Blues." He also shines with his absolutely fabulous slide guitar work on "The Gift Of Robert Charles," his own composition, a slow, plodding number with heavy gospel overtones.

The song that really struck a chord with me was a Salgado/Hager composition, "I Want My Dog To Live Longer (The Greatest Wish)." Salgado goes through a whole litany of things he'd like to do or be in his life, but when it comes down to it he just wants his faithful companion to be with him for the rest of his time on earth. I'm inspired because as I'm writing this review, my nearly 15-year-old cat, about whom I have similar sentiments, is sitting next to me.

A few guest artists sit in with the duo at times, with one of the treats being really strong piano playing from Jim Pugh on "One Night Only." Salgado also shows his versatility by putting down his harmonica to tickle the ivories on the novelty number, "Hell In A Handbasket," on which he describes what's going to happen to him after he's gone --- and it's not real good.

Of course, Salgado's best instrument (besides his voice, of course) is the harmonica, and he shows off his virtuosity on the instrument on the mid-tempo blues, "So Near To Nowhere," and later on Sonny Boy Williamson's "Too Young To Die."

I wasn't sure what to expect from Rough Cut when it first arrived just because it was quite a different forum for Salgado. But after listening to it several times, I'm already saving a spot for it on my 2018 Top 10 list.

--- Bill Mitchell



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