Born to Be Blue
So what if Sonny Rhodes’ lap steel sometimes sounds a bit too much like late buddy Albert Collins’ ice-breaker? He growls awful good. He won’t let a wall of brass horn him in. And ever since J.B. Hutto passed on, leaving his chintzy crown behind, one of the only adventurous hat-wearing bluesman we’ve got left is turbanned Sonny. Chuck Willis, Eddie Kirkland, Lynn Hope and the entire doo-wopping Turbans aside, Rhodes points the way to a whole new world of head fashion (fezzes anyone?).
Rhodes comes out of Texas, but not loping like some old country mule. There’s plenty of horn-laced soul here, and somehow it doesn’t come off sounding stale. On Born to Be Blue, Rhodes doesn’t try too hard to distance himself from blues formula, but he and his Florida-based band inject enough fresh riffs to make his third try for this label an infectious rocker.
He learned a lot watching and listening to his old friend Collins. But the fluidity of his steel guitar prevents Rhodes from straying too close to Collins’ glassy skitterings. What sounds like ice in Collins’ hands thaws to slush on Rhodes’ lap — an agreeable sound that creeps up on you like cubes melting in a glass of scotch. "I’d Rather Be Hot Than Cool," a rollicking track midway through this disc, could well be Rhodes’ credo.
The very next number, the slinky "Five-Day Rain," a disaster blues in the tradition of Larry Davis’ "Texas Flood," bores into the brain like ether. Before you know it, the combination of Rhodes’ siren guitar and the slippery horns will have you down on the table.
No Texas blues album is complete without its party flag-wavers. "Hide That Wine" barrels along like a runaway train. Then there’s the goosey "Satan," a gleeful adieu to temptation set to a romping, barrelhouse pace. And just to make sure he’s got your attention, Rhodes makes sure the album starts and fades out at a clip — both the opener, "Born to Be Blue," and the finale, "If I Had the Chance," churn with abandon, horns ablaze, lap steel zinging out shards of soul.
"How long must Sonny Rhodes keep knocking at the door of blues stardom?" Bob Greenlee, the guitarist’s anxious bassist and songwriter asks in the liner notes. If he has to keep on knocking with more jet-propelled records like these, Sonny’s either going to bust some knuckles or tear out the entire frame.
— Steve Braun