You Can’t Do That
Black Top 1142
Seldom in recent years has an album been as anticipated as this. And for good reason: Remarkably, this is the first album recorded by this bona-fide architect of post-war amplified blues under his own name. With his late brother Louis, drummer Fred Below and with (first) Junior Wells then Little Walter, Myers was at the nucleus of the famed Aces (or alternately Little Walter and the Nightcats).
In the ’50s, they set the classic Chicago shuffle to a swinging rhythm and forever defined the sound of harp-led electric blues. In the intervening years, Dave Myers has been a fixture on Chicago’s blues scene and a frequent solo artist. Visitors to the Checkerboard Lounge often can still find him engaged in an intense card game with local patrons or just enjoying the music.
A veritable who’s-who of retro blues was picked to back the veteran bluesman, including Kim Wilson, Rusty Zinn and Richard Innes. Along with Ronnie James on upright bass, pianist Steve Lucky and guest saxman John Firmin, they recreate the tone and tempo of ’50s blues in a way that will satisfy even the crustiest purist. They sound so damned good that they overwhelm Dave Myers’ role as vocalist; Myers didn’t make his reputation as a singer, and here he sounds curiously listless fronting the band.
Kim Wilson, as he so convincingly demonstrated on the late Jimmy Rogers’ Ludella, is arguably the premier alumnus of the overcrowded Little/Big Walter school of harp wailing, and on Myers’ "You Can’t Do That" or Sonny Boy’s "Elevate Me Mama," he prominently struts his fat tone and cliché-free phrasing. Much less satisfying was the substitution of his harp lead for Lowell Fulson’s timeless guitar solo on a rendition of "Reconsider Baby."
Rusty Zinn, in a very few years, has jumped to the head of the pack of West Coast guitarists by combining respect for tradition and restraint with a growing mastery of tone and dynamics. His chording support and bell-clear lead work here is directly traceable to predecessors Robert Jr. Lockwood and Luther Tucker and to the mentoring of Myers himself. His participation in two instrumental tracks, "Dave’s Boogie Guitar" and "Legs Up," helps make them the hands-down highlights of the album. And there hasn’t been a more solid shuffle timekeeper during the past three decades than Innes.
The song selection is said to be Myers’ own and reflects both Chicago’s historic legacy (in the choice of two Sonny Boy I tunes and Little Walter’s "Oh Baby" — which is covered note for note) as well as an unexpected affection for Fats Domino ("Please Don’t Leave Me" and "Going Home Tomorrow"). Without the requisite horn section and with Myers’ limited vocal agility these latter tunes are pretty flat versions of New Orleans R&B. As for the rest of the set, shuffles, both fast and slow, abound as expected, as does a swinging tempo. A cover of the Opryland derived "Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy," however, soon had me reaching for the "skip" button.
With its all-star line-up and distinctively throwback sound, look for You Can’t Do That to be a front runner for this year’s Handy "Best Traditional Blues" award. I’m sure I speak for many fellow blues lovers in hoping that this is the first of many more showcases for the legendary Dave Myers.
— Jack Oudiz