Live at the Rynborn
Black Top 1141
Bobby Radcliff is legit! The Washington, D.C.-based guitarist has some heavy dues to pay — principally to the late Magic Sam, as well as 1950s R&B stalwarts such as Hank Ballard and Bill Doggett — but he’s managed to hone a recognizable personal style from his influences, one that is dramatic and entertaining.
Radcliff’s approach is characterized by quick, intense vibrato, both in his vocals and guitar work. He takes songs such as Jimmy Dawkins’ "Please Have Mercy" — a thoroughly conventional 12-bar slow blues — and interjects the fire and passion, both vocally and instrumentally, necessary to turn them into convincing personal statements. His guitar fluency is probably unmatched in contemporary blues, as evidenced by the six-minute workout on Doggett’s "Honky Tonk." Lean and mean, indeed.
If there’s a drawback to Radcliff’s work on Live at the Rynborn, it’s that the trio format in which he operates places all the entertainment weight on his shoulders. The lack of instrumental or vocal variety starts to become more apparent as the listener goes deeper into the recording. It also reveals a lack of dynamic levels in his performance; essentially, Radcliff performs at one speed or intensity level — wide open — throughout the show. Some subtle, quieter moments, as well as variations in guitar tone and attack, would make the full-throttle reverie more persuasive.
Still, Radcliff plays circles around most guitarists on the blues club and festival circuit these days. Live at the Rynborn is worth a listen if only to marvel at his six-string gymnastics and his successful transformation of his influences into a style of his own.
— Bryan Powell