First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2011, Volume 18, #3
Written by John Metzger
Mon March 21, 2011, 06:30 AM CDT
Whenever he finds a formula that works, Buddy Guy has had a tendency to overuse it. Most notably, in the wake of his comeback effort Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues, Guy has unleashed a steady stream of albums that largely have mirrored the star-studded roster of accomplices that returned him to the limelight. Some of these collaborations have been successful; others have been inherently flawed. Regardless, nearly 20 years later, Guy still is prone to calling on his pals for a significant amount of assistance every time he steps into a recording studio.
Naturally, this has led to one of the main criticisms that has dogged Guy throughout his career: To put it simply, there are times when he has been puzzlingly reluctant to assert himself. Guy often loses sight of his blues heritage, opting instead to please his audience by tackling songs plucked from the pantheon of rock ’n‘ roll. Likewise, he frequently cedes the stage to his guests, allowing them to provide the persona to his albums. In essence, he is so focused upon amicably marketing his endeavors that he unintentionally obscures much of his talent.
There are indications that the tide is beginning to turn. Both Carlos Santana and B.B. King lend their talents to Guy’s latest set Living Proof. (Santana spikes the tortured darkness of Where the Blues Begins with light, while King solidifies the friendly, spiritual air of Stay Around a Little Longer). This time, however, their presence hardly serves as a distraction that removes Guy from the equation. Although they help to shape the overall tone of the endeavor, they also ease Guy’s transition to a new template.
Aided considerably by drummer and producer Tom Hambridge, Guy has been quietly mustering a creative resurgence by altering the way in which he approaches his efforts. Oddly enough, prior to his 2008 effort Skin Deep, he had never made an album that was composed entirely of original material. Skin Deep might have been a fluke, too, but the warm reception that the collection received seems to have sparked a new era in the legendary bluesman’s history. Throughout Living Proof, Guy once again resists the urge to resort to cover tunes, and after further refining his tactics, the set stands as one of the more lyrically cohesive outings in Guy’s canon.
Musically, Living Proof is a fairly straightforward set. Trolling through a variety of styles, Guy is able to bring enough diversity to the collection to keep it interesting. Nevertheless, his backing band is so rehearsed that the songs sometimes struggle to escape from their simplistic frameworks. Guy is the star of the show, though, and for the most part, he provides the spark that is needed to ignite the material. The violence in his guitar solos repeatedly stirs his tunes to life by adding a layer of angry aggression to their arrangements.
Living Proof begins with 74 Years Young, an autobiographical tale that, laced with a confident strut, serves as a summation of Guy’s life and his accomplishments. Similarly, during the murky stomp of Thank Me Someday, Guy reflects upon his youth before inevitably pushing the next generation to carry his legacy forward. Elsewhere, Guy ponders his mortality and addresses flawed relationships. Unfortunately, Guy and Hambridge failed to take the steps necessary to make Living Proof a full-fledged conceptual outing. If only they had defined the affair’s narrative arc a little better, Living Proof would have been a much stronger effort. ½
Of Further Interest...
Living Proof is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box