Sonny Rhodes
Blue Diamond
Stony Plain SPCD 1257

Too often Sonny Rhodesí recordings seem only to hint at rather than fully showcase his generous talents. But here heís spirited and musically involved with a varied but focused repertoire that ranges from straight-up blues ("Rainy Day") to Southern soul ("Love From a Stone"). Itís a good thing, too ó we deserve to hear this veteran bluesmanís grainy pipes in their proper setting.

Back in the í50s Rhodes was inspired by Leon McAuliffe (steel guitarist for Bob Willsí Texas Playboys) to take up lap steel guitar, traditionally ignored in blues circles though presently enjoying somewhat of a vogue. He plays the lap steel on seven of the 13 selections, and thereís a suggestive, expressive vocality to the swoops and wails he coaxes from it.

Rhodes dedicates the session to fellow Texan Johnny Copeland, who apparently gave emotional support to a down-hearted Rhodes before the guitarist passed away, and Lone Star themes abound. "Meet Me at the 10th Street Inn" is a loping shuffle that describes a Texas juke joint. Itís slathered with greasy lap steel, as is "Blue Diamond," the saga of a Texas blues slickster thatís set to an oily beat and features a solo of appropriate tone from legendary saxophonist Noble "Thin Man" Watts. Both Rhodes and Watts play beautifully on the stately instrumental, "Blues Walk."

Rhodes is unusually countrified on "Back Where You Come From." Accompanied by acoustic guitar and harmonica, he sings a tune more old-style Mississippi than Texas. Also in the back-porch mode is "Blues Manís Prayer," a fast-paced number with a studied gospel feel and homey lyrics that put you right there on the porch with the rest of the family. Finally, Rhodes discusses his Texas roots at some length in a surprisingly long interview at the end of the set.

Sonnyís accompaniment is crisp and alert throughout. Some cuts have horns while two are "unplugged." The overall tone is energetic and upbeat, with Rhodes sounding more zestful than he has in quite a while. Itís a CD well worth your time.

ó Tim Schuller

©2000 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA