July 26, 2008

Album Review: Buddy Guy - Skin Deep

It’s a classic case of a teacher showing up his students. In Shine A Light, Mick Jagger invites Buddy Guy to “help us out” on the Muddy Waters cut, “Champagne And Reefer.” As he waits for his cue, Guy leers at the band with this mischievous grinthis knowing lookas if to say, ”Let me demonstrate how it’s done, boys” before he steps up and thoroughly schools the Rolling Stones with a master class of Chicago Blues.

Guy assumes a similarly fervent and commanding approach on Skin Deep, an album of twelve originals (seven of which he wrote or co-wrote) that holds up as well as anything this side of Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues. At 71, his brilliance as a guitarist remains undiminished as he elicits tones so ferocious they sound like he’s manhandling six industrial power lines rather than playing a portable instrument. 

And like he enlightened the Stones, he takes a few more students under his wing, giving them room to groove without forsaking his own domain. Robert Randolph lays down a dirty steel guitar on the swamp stomp, “Out In The Woods,” and pedal steel (as Guy levels some “nighttime funky love”) on “That’s My Home.” Eric Clapton joins in on “Every Time I Sing The Blues,” a smoldering brew that finds them trading verses and licks for nearly eight minutes.

Yet it’s Derek Trucks who proves most versatile as he deftly complements the title track, which forgoes raucousness and heavy riffs for a countrified gut-check story about tolerance and dignity. “Underneath, we’re all the same,” Guy sings with poignant insight. Trucks also lends a modest slide guitar to “Too Many Tears” while his wife, Susan Tedeschi, holds her own against Guy’s mighty voice in this you-did-me-wrong duet.

The best lessons come from leading by example, though, and that’s where Buddy Guy especially thrives. He goes roadhouse on “Show Me The Money” and “Best Damn Fool,” tearing into them with merciless, combustible fury. And sustaining the potency but not the barnstorming pace, he simmers though primal tracks like “Smell The Funk” and “Lyin’ Like A Dog.” It’s on these slow burners, in particular, that Buddy Guy digs deepest, stretches out, and summons his most searing, inspired performances. In other words, he’s just demonstrating how it’s done.