billy-lavenderMEMPHIS LIVIN’
Billy Lavender
I55 Productions

Whether singing or playing up a storm, in a lead or supporting role, Memphis mainstay Billy Lavender serves up a mighty fine batch of southern soul, R&B, blues and good old-time rock ‘n’ roll on Memphis Livin’, and gets a rousing assist from a redoubtable cast of players who all brought their A games to the fray. First among equals in that regard would be vocalist Reba Russell, who makes a profound impression on her three lead vocals: summoning celebratory spirits on the driving, go-for-broke blues burner, “Let’s Party,” with Blind Mississippi Morris pitching in with righteously burning harmonica wailing and Lavender doing what he does best—making the guitar sing and roar and sting; then digging down deep to burnish the steady groove of “Blue” with a subdued, probing—even anguished at times—testimony of a most revealing and personal nature (with Brad Webb’s sitar, of all instruments, adding a dark, turbulent counterpoint to the vocalist’s weary ruminations); and most impressively, opening her heart fully and dramatically on a ‘70s-style soul heartbreaker, “Bottom Line,” rich in atmosphere thanks to Lavender’s piercing guitar interjections and Russell Wheeler’s sturdy, humming, churchy B3 in support of Reba’s tender/tough pleadings to a wayward lover, expressed first in cool, measured phrasings, only to burst forth in aggrieved pleadings at the end. But Russell, again, sings only a trio of songs; most of the vocal duties are split between Tony Adams’s muscular blues shouting and Lavender’s softer, pop-styled approach. Adams was as much the right call to bring home with a vengeance the Stones-ish album opening blues-rock stomp, “Singin’ the Blues,” as Lavender was to contribute an airy, assured, Steve Miller-like lead vocal (and some tasty guitar support) to deliver the message of love as a healing balm in the funky “All the People.” Lavender is also on lead vocals on the album’s other topically-oriented song, “Get Along,” which takes its title from Rodney King’s plea, “Can’t we all just get along?” In this case, Lavender’s vocal takes on a harder edge, and the furious, hard charging blues-rock track, with Russell Wheeler's Jerry Lee-style piano pounding igniting the mix, feels for all the world like an early, bristling Stones track, and darn if Lavender doesn’t sound like the younger Mick Jagger as he belts out the lyrics. And although the band model carries the day on Memphis Livin’, the album’s most sensitive and touching moment comes on the penultimate song, “If I Could,” a slight (at 1:43) but arresting beauty of promised commitment that is conditional only in the sense that its protagonist is awaiting a reciprocal sign from the object of his affection. The haunting melody and Lavender’s soft, multitracked voice, set against a country-tinged but spare backdrop of baritone guitar and dobro (by Brad Webb) and Lavender’s own guitar, recall nothing so much as a latter-day John Lennon billet-doux to Yoko. Given its inclusion amongst barnburning blues and densely textured soul ballads, “If I Could” comes out of nowhere, a sneaky roundhouse right that coldcocks you while you’re leading with the left. It’s a big-time, heavyweight punch, and even though it’s but a moment among 13 other songs, it makes everything else around it richer, weightier, more memorable. And, like that, a good album becomes exceptional. —David McGee
Memphis Livin’ is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, 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