Clarence Gatemouth Brown
Verve 314 537 617-2
His straightforward take on Duke Ellington's standard "Take the 'A' Train" is immediately familiar, an introductory bone thrown to non-fans that serves the same purpose as Buddy Guy's version of "Mustang Sally" on his 1991 breakthrough. Beyond that, Brown picks a nice middle ground between the obvious (Louis Jordan's "Caldonia" and and Count Basie's "One O'Clock Jump") and the obscure (Percy Mayfield's "River's Invitation" and Harold Floyd's "Honey Dew").
Brown's big band, anchored by a 13-piece horn section, moves easily from soloing to tight teamwork; on his "Gate's Blues Waltz," the bandleader's guitar trades licks with saxophonists Tony Dagradi and Eric Demmer, then gives way so the rhythm section can jump in. On "River's Invitation," the horn section supplies the perfect exclamation point at the end of every sentence, and there's even a touch of Dixieland in the Count Basie-Jimmy Rushing classic "Take Me Back Baby."
Why buy this album, which is essentially a loving reproduction of old music, and not the original thing by Duke Ellington, T-Bone Walker or even Benny Goodman? Because of Brown. His twisty electric guitar, whether it's opening "Caldonia" with a '50s-rockabilly riff or "Bits and Pieces" with a Stax-soul line, always adds a rocking element to enliven the musty swing arrangements. And his relaxed, almost weary, drawl keeps everything rooted in pure blues.
-- Steve Knopper