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Buddy Guy – Living Proof

on November 09, 2010, 8:00am

Many reviewers and critics are referring to Buddy Guy’s latest Silvertone Records release, Living Proof, as an autobiography of sorts. Listening to the songs, there is ample evidence to support such claims. However, I am of the opinion that pretty much anything a bluesman writes will be at least semi-autobiographical. It’s just the nature of the beast. In the case of Living Proof , it is most certainly a semi-autobiography, as Guy only contributed writing credits on five of the album’s 12 songs. Much like Miles Davis writing his autobiography with the help of Quincy Troupe and Tina Turner writing hers with Kurt Loder, Guy’s semi-autobiographical release was co-written by Tom Hambridge, who also played drums on and produced the record. Hambridge may have shaped the words, but the voice and message are all Guy.

If the bio tag is to be applied, then two songs in particular, the title track and the album opener, “74 Years Young”, are perhaps the most obviously autobiographical of all the songs on Living Proof. Guy gets it rolling in a very soft, laid-back approach on “74”. With barroom piano rolls filling the layer just above the drumbeat, the electric in his blues finally pops its head up at the two-minute mark, at which point Guy’s presence is fully announced. He explodes on his guitar, exhibiting some exhilarating finger work. Barreling through with a stomping kick drum on “Living Proof”, Guy even incorporates a couple backup singers to provide a nice harmony, including Bekka Bramlett, singer, songwriter, and daughter of famed folk duo (and Clapton influence/collaborators) Delaney and Bonnie.

“Stay Around a Little Longer” slows things down and adds a bit of BB King, one of two guest spots on the album. The slower pace is a refreshing breather after opening with three pretty decent smokers, but it ends up a bit lacking overall. King’s contributions include ol’ gal Lucille and some vocal work. The “singing” is mostly done in a rhythmic spoken-word dialogue, where the two are adding compliments back and forth, reinforcing their lifelong friendship, even after they’re “pushing up daisies.”

The slow, trudging blues beat progression that became almost clichéd within the genre provides the backbone for “Thank Me Someday”. Guy’s guitar sounds taut, enforcing his authority and playing wingman to his voice. His roaring, gravelly voice is sometimes sweet and smooth like a mirror of his younger self, but most of the time, he just belts out his pain.

In much of the blues, the pain most often experienced is at the hands of a woman. “Key Don’t Fit” provides one of the classic blues themes – trying to woo a woman…and failing. Utilizing not so subtle innuendo, Guy chimes that his key may not fit her lock anymore, but it won’t stop him from trying to stick it in the door. A little less vague than squeezing a lemon or putting sugar in a bowl, but the message is all the same. However, stopping short of any assault charges, Guy hollers, “I got this funny feeling you don’t want me ‘round anymore.” The flipside to “Key Don’t Fit” might be the rather humorous “Let the Door Knob Hit Ya”, which pops up later in the album.

Guy isn’t one to play the victim and answers rejection with “Guess What”, a song about a man reclaiming some power from his woman, who has been “accusing [Guy] of running around with other bitches.” Trying to calm her down, Guy simply tells her, “When you point your finger, you have three pointing back at you,” a beautiful turning of the tables that has Guy smiling throughout the confrontation. On top of some great lyrics, Guy is simply on fire during his solo, providing what is one of the album’s highlights.

In what was surely intended to be another high point on the album, “Where the Blues Begins” features Carlos Santana, and, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. Of course, Santana’s playing is fluid, slick, and very clean, but for a musician like Guy who thrives in the mud and sludge, offering a slick second guitar to piddle on rhythm and offer a slight solo doesn’t do much to elevate the track above a simple guest-spot mention. It’s a real shame, too, especially when you stop and think about how these two performed a crazy version of Parliament’s “Maggot Brain” years earlier!

“Everybody’s Got To Go” is not a spiritual or gospel number in the traditional sense but certainly one indebted to the guiding hand of a higher power. Preaching on the inevitability of everyone’s eventual passing, the song is presented almost as if from the perspective of the wise, old sage who is well aware that his time is approaching. Not one to fear dying, but certainly not running to embrace it, Guy fills the track with a sense of calm, belaying any fears. After all, “Everybody’s got to go.”

A couple of other tracks such as “On the Road” (featuring the Memphis Horns) and a houserockin’ “Too Soon” round out Guy’s tour of the blues. Throughout the entirety of Living Proof, Guy’s guitar certainly holds center stage. However, on the final track of the album, Guy unleashes the instrument in all its fury. “Skanky” is a smokin’ instrumental piece that centers Guy’s playing atop a bed of heavy blues rhythm. The first half sears through, only to pull back the reins a little just to tighten up the unit. Once everything is pulled in and set, Guy unleashes a second wind that blows the roof off once again: a perfect way to end one of his tightest releases in recent years.