Blues Bytes


September/October 2019

Jimmy Carpenter
Soul Doctor
Gulf Coast Records

Jimmy Carpenter

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 the album.

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 solo.

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





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