News this week that Buddy Guy had been Grammy nominated for best contemporary blues album had me revisiting the scalding blisses of Living Proof.
I loved it from the first solo, this sharp outburst of gnarled sexuality on 74 Years Young": There ain't nothing I haven't done," Guy yowls, giving the finger to old age. I've been a dog; I've been a tom cat. I chased some tails and I left some tracks."
That's typical of Guy's examination of his storied past here: leather-tough, unsentimental and bearing a strong resemblance to the gauntlet-tossing braggadocio Muddy Waters, Guy's former boss. But this pioneerstill underappreciated, despite the Grammy nod and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductiontakes it a step further with his signature melding of blues and heavy-rock guitar.
You know, a doctor came to my home, said you're gonna die all alone," Guy sings on the delicious, Texas-rocking title track. Well, I'm still hereand that doctor's dead and gone!"
Living Proofagain produced and co-written with Tom Hambridge, who previously worked with Guy on 2008's only so-so Skin Deepis easily the Lettsworth, La., native's most consistent recording in years, and one that most resembles the liquid-fire aggression of his live performances.
Buddy Guy is not disappearing quietly into any good night. In fact, if ever goes down, it'll be swinging.
Take Thank Me Someday," this brash retelling of his hardscrabble beginnings. As a young musician with dreams of escapeand a very noisy, homemade two-string guitarhe remembers being asked to quiet down. Guy replies: Shut up! Y'all are going to thank me one day," then descends into an incendiary instrumental passageexclaiming, I'm going to make sure you hear me!"
On the Road," which gets an able assist from the Memphis Horns, finds Guy similarly undiminished by timesqueezing out repetitive, ozone-producing riffs that recall guitar-god successor Stevie Ray Vaughan. Key Don't Fit" is a muscular update of Somebody Done Changed the Lock on My Door," popularized by Louis Jordan.
Elsewhere, Guy tells off a complaining partner with Let The Door Knob Hit Ya," and boldly uncovers the lies of a cheating lover in Guess What." Skanky," the closing instrumental, is perfectly titled.
But Living Proof isn't all cocksure bravado. Guy displays a hard-eyed introspection on tracks like Everybody's Got to Go," inspired by the 2008 passing of his brother Phil, also a blues guitarist.
Then there's the sweet meloncholy of Stay Around a Little Longer," featuring old friend B.B. King on vocals and guitar.
Neither can avoid the stark reality of what's been lost during their lengthy journey down life'sand music'sroad: We've come a long way," Guy finally surmises, but we are long ways from being done." Guy is in the right channel, while King answers in the leftand the camaraderie is palpable.
Carlos Santana also appears on the pleasant, Latin-tinged Where the Blues Begins," but thankfully Guy doesn't further indulge his increasingly tiresome habit of overguesting.
The song Living Proof," which adds a swaying, whiskey-soaked chorus of back-pew singers including Bekka Bramlett, also digs deeper into this world's hard truths: Life ain't easy; it's a long, hard test," Guy says. You're going to make mistakes; just do your best. With the Lord's mercy, you'll make it though. Hell, I'm living proof."
This album underscores both that legacy, andafter nearly a decade of coasting in the studiohis ongoing ability to surprise and delight. Buddy Guy may not win the Grammy, but he's certainly regained my attention.
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