Gulf Coast Records
The first local blues band that
I encountered when I moved to Greensboro,
North Carolina in 1983 was a group called The Alka-fonics, which led to me seeing these cats
many, many times during my seven years in that
area. I especially really liked the sax player,
Jimmy Carpenter, so animated on stage
that his face would often turn red during his
powerful horn solos. Not long after I left N.C.,
Jimmy re-located to New Orleans and he's since
played with the likes of Walter "Wolfman"
Washington, Eric Lindel, Tinsley Ellis, Jimmy
Thackery and others, most recently touring with
guitarist Mike Zito.
Now based in Las Vegas, Carpenter
has released a fine new album, Soul Doctor
(Gulf Coast Records), recorded in Vegas and produced
by Zito. It's a solid set of 10 numbers, seven of
which are Carpenter originals. I don't recall him
singing much back in the Alfa-fonics days, but
Carpenter's vocal work on Soul Doctor shows
him to be the owner of a strong, soulful voice.
Soul Doctor gets underway
with the title cut, which starts with a funky beat
followed by hefty guitar work from guest guitarist Nick Schnebelen and the
B3 playing of Red Young, Carpenter sings about that
soul doctor who is "... always on the line ..." when
his help is needed. Schnebelen returns for another
hot blues guitar solo followed by Carpenter taking
the lead on a sax break. Up next is a mid-tempo
ballad, "When I Met You," showcasing Carpenter's
vocals. Our leader then pumps a little more power to
his voice on the blues shuffle "Wild Streak,"
singing about his wild child woman.
Drummer Cameron Tyler kicks off the
next cut, the very New Orleans-ish "Love It So
Much," with some solid drumming, after which
Carpenter sings about his love-hate relationship
with being on the road with his band. He'd give up
that life and stay home with his woman if he "...
just didn't love it so much ..." The Bender Brass
horn section (Doug Woolverton on trumpet, Mark
Earley on baritone sax) really stand out on his one.
"Need Your Love So Bad" is a wonderful slow blues,
highlighting the guitar work of Chris Tofield and
more exquisite keyboard from Young before Carpenter
turns in a killer jazzy sax solo, one of his best on
There's a whole lot of stuff going
on behind Carpenter's vocals on "Wanna Be Right," on
which he asks the question, "... do you want to be
right, or do you want to be happy? ..." Quite the
quandary that most of us face in our day-to-day
lives. This one's got a lot of funk and guitar
effects, not to mention still another smokin' B3
solo from Young. An instrumental cover of The
Coasters classic, "One Mint Julep," is given such a
funky treatment that it's almost indistinguishable
from the original --- one of the highlights of
Soul Doctor. Not having to spend time singing
here Carpenter really tears it up on sax
throughout, reminding us that deep down he's been a horn man for
his entire career. And, of
course, we get more fantastic keyboard work from
Young, who has his own impressive musical history.
Carpenter again sings about some of
the questionable decisions that he's made on the
hard-drivin' "Wrong Turn," with his vocals at the
beginning of the cut given some heavy-duty echo.
Carpenter picks up the guitar on this one, along
with Trevor Johnson on the slide, while Al Ek blows
some frantic harmonica accompaniment. "Lo Fi
Roulette" pretty much describes the recording
techniques used on this snaky instrumental, with
Young's organ backing up Carpenter's sax work while
Tofield later comes in with a blazing blues guitar
Bringing this outstanding album to a
close is a soulful cover of Eddie Hinton's "Yeah
Man," with Carpenter's uplifting vocals ending the
session on an upbeat and positive note.
Soul Man is already being
penciled in for my 2019 Top Ten list. It's been 36
years since I first saw Jimmy Carpenter blowing his
sax on-stage in some dingy Greensboro bar, but it's
clear that he's still got it and that he's grown
significantly as a musician since then. Add Soul
Man to your CD shopping list --- you'll thank me
for the recommendation.
--- Bill Mitchell