Freddie Roulette
Back in Chicago
Hi Horse 4044

Freddie Roulette is a virtuoso on a most unusual blues instrument — the lap steel guitar. With Arhoolie’s recent series on Florida-based "sacred steel" players, the time is right for a return to recording for Roulette, a veteran of many Chicago dates in the ’60s. For this session, Roulette went back to Chicago from his home in Northern California and hooked up with Willie Kent and the Gents. The result is a thrill from start to finish.

Roulette’s ax is an eight-string electric steel guitar tuned to an A7 chord. As a sideman, he is inventive and sympathetic. Given a rare chance to step in front, he is devastating, spraying notes all over the ether, scampering up and down the fingerboard like a pack of musical mice. At times, he lets loose with big, wobbly chords like Robert Ward playing through his Magnatone amp.

Roulette’s weakness is his voice. As Dick Shurman charitably puts it in his liner notes: "Roulette sings in great part out of necessity" — that is, if there’s no one around who can do it better. He turns in his best vocals on Don Nix’s "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven." But otherwise, the singing is just there to connect the solos.

And what solos they are. From the first cut, "Need Your Lovin’," Roulette is on, taking the melody apart and flinging it into outer space. On Albert King’s "You’re Gonna Need Me," he plays very high up on the board and then comes clattering down. On his original title song, he plays in unison with the vocals, then takes off on another jaunt to steel heaven.

Roulette can also make his guitar talk. His "Laundry Mat Blues" is a long (the cut clocks in at 10 and 1/2 minutes) conversation with his "girlfriend" about her trip to the cleaners and other, dirtier topics.

It’s a shame that this is Roulette’s first solo recording in almost 25 years. It may be a while before he makes another. So get this disc and prepare to take off with a master.

— David Feld

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Boulder, CO, USA.