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Back To The Woods
Chuck Leavell
Label: Evergreen Arts, LLC
Release Date: February 26, 2012
Review Date: March 25, 2012

Most people, when the think of the blues artists, will think of blues guitarists or vocalists.  Leave it to Rolling Stones keyboardist, Chuck Leavell, to broaden our knowledge of the genre by turning us all on to great and often little known blues piano gems from the past.

And turn us on he does!

This album came about in large part because of a suggestion made by Leavell’s son-in-law, Steve Bransford, and we should be darn glad that he did because this disc is fun to listen to.  The CD pays homage and a thank you to early piano blues pioneers like Leroy Carr, Memphis Slim, Barrelhouse Buck McFarland, Otis Spann, Little Brother Montgomery, Charlie Spand, Charles Calhoun, Ray Charles, Skip James, Leola Manning, and Jesse James.  To paraphrase Leavell’s intentions shared in the album’s notes, this is his interpretation and treatment of these great blues tunes and not a replication of them.

Listening to this album, the listener can almost smell the liquor, smoke and food that would waft from the honky-tonks, juke joints and barrel houses that was home to piano blues players.  Leavell’s signature sound permeates the album.  His light touch on the keys – a tickling, if you will – has a way of bringing sounds and feelings out of 88 keys like no one else can.  While Chuck has help from well known and incredibly talented people, I’d pay extra to have this CD of just his piano work sans the other instruments, it’s that great.

Speaking of the help Chuck brought in on Back To The Woods, it will come as no surprise to hear that band mate, Keith Richards, plays acoustic guitar on Evening Train and electric guitar on Boots and Shoes along with John Mayer.  John Mayer also plays electric guitar on Wish Me Well.  Incidentally, both of these tunes are flagged as the top two Boomerocity favorites and have been worn out by continuous slaps of the repeat button.

Other guests who might sound familiar to you are Randall Bramblett, Candi Staton, Col. Bruce Hampton, Davis Causey, and Danny Barnes.  Rounding out the band are Tom Ryan on baritone sax, Neal Fountain on guitar and bass, Chris Enghauser on stand-up bass and Louis Romanos on drums.

I said at the beginning of this review that Leavell broadens our knowledge of the blues.  When I say that, I don’t just mean by giving us his interpretation of the 15 songs he selected for this project.  He also gives the listener a great, brief written history and background on the genre and the songs.  Just as he does with his playing, Leavell’s love and appreciation for the songs and the artists originally responsible for them comes through in the booklet.  Heck, the booklet is worth the price of the CD by itself!

Not only will Chuck Leavell fans want to snatch up this CD but musicologists, blues enthusiasts, pianists, just plain lovers of great music will most definitely want this album in their listening library.   

Hey, Steve, got any more great ideas to nudge your father-in-law with?  If you do, don’t be shy about it.