august 2008

It’s Hot In Here

By David McGee

Buddy Guy at the Crossroads Festival, 2007

Buddy Guy
Silvertone Records

Don’t be misled about Skin Deep, Buddy Guy’s triumphant rebound from 2005’s uneven Bring ‘Em In, which found him giving a bit too much latitude to John Mayer and Carlos Santana, at the expense of his own artistry. The guests he brings in this time—and they are formidable, numbering Eric Clapton, Robert Randolph and the husband-and-wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi—contribute uniformly inspired performances, but the force of Guy’s performances insures that the spotlight properly stays on his work. To that end, the album contains all new songs, most co-written by Guy and his producer/drummer Tom Hambridge, and on seven of the 12 Guy carries the day without any of his high-profile friends sitting in. Not to dismiss the guest artist tracks, but the numbers featuring Guy and his basic, smoking band of Willie Weeks (bass), David Grissom (guitar), Reese Wynans (keyboard) and Hambridge on drums are as fierce as any blues you’ll encounter anywhere. On the kissoff blues, “Lyin’ Like a Dog,” Hambridge augments Guy’s wrenching complaints with a Sun-like vocal reverb but keeps his spitfire, unrepentant guitar solos clean and hot in the mix as the band churns behind him. The album kicks off with a wonderful, charging bit of self-aggrandizing testifying on “Best Damn Fool,” a song full of self-referential wit (“I’ll turn cabbage into collard greens”) and high spirited encomiums to his own expertise in the sack. Guy gets the hardest edge out of his ’57 Strat during his righteous soloing, and the track gets a lot of added Memphis-style oomph by way of a blurting horn section arranged by none other than Willie Mitchell. On the raucous, pumping blues of “Show Me the Money,” Guy, playing a ’74 Tele, cuts loose on a sputtering, wailing solo about halfway through that lays waste to everything in its path, but he’s got plenty of help in the soul department thanks to Wynans’ rousing, honky tonk piano and some frenzied gospel shouting courtesy vocalists Bekka Bramlett and Wendy Moten. But it’s not all fun and games. Clapton sits in with a terrific, husky vocal and stinging guitar solo on “Every Time I Sing the Blues,” which, on Guy’s part, is both mission statement and social commentary explaining the the forces animating his artistry (“it takes a whoooole lot of livin’/to make a song come alive,” Guy shouts); even more moving is the title track, “Skin Deep,” a slow, churning blues hymn in which Guy recounts a first-person encounter with racism as a child, remembers the counsel he gave his own son to “treat everybody just the way you want them to treat you,” and goes on to plead for understanding and tolerance because “underneath we all the same.” Behind him the female voices coming right out of the church to enhance his message belong to none other than Bonnie Bramlett (whose latest solo album, Beautiful, contains not one but two songs advancing the same message as “Skin Deep”) and daughter Bekka, making a second memorable appearance on the album. With Robert Randolph’s steel guitar moaning and howling a dire warning in the autobiographical “Out In the Woods, Guy reflects on the sinister environment in which he was immersed while growing up in the wilds of Louisiana, to which he adds a couple of soaring, wailing solos of his own as he brings the tale into the current day to make clear why neither fears nor trusts anyone (“if you come into my woods/you just might lose your tail,” he warns at the end). Trucks and Tedeschi are wonderful on the stomping “Too Many Tears,” the former of course injecting some fearsome slide guitar into the proceedings, as the latter absolutely scorches her vocal readings, making it absolutely clear why she’s at the end of her rope with a wandering man. Tedeschi has been an inconsistent artist, but this track underscores how potent she can be when she’s on her game. Thanks to Hambridge’s production, Skin Deep never lacks for stirring arrangements, and he keeps the mixes vibrant throughout, but always with Guy dead center, in the spotlight, playing and singing with the vigor of a man considerably younger than his 72 years, ceding nothing to the young(er) upstarts he schools here. Hitting with sledgehammer force every time he enters the scene, Guy delivers house wrecking blues of the first order, like he’d been smokin’ dynamite and drinkin’ TNT.


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024