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Two guitarists, two solid albums

Restless Feeling
Restless Feeling
By Carl Weathersby

Evidence Music: 1998

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L.A. Blues
L.A. Blues
By James Solberg

Atomic Theory Records: 1998

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These reviews first appeared in the November 14, 1998 edition of the American Reporter.

As regular as the periodic booms in the popularity of the blues are the predictors of doom. The blues is dying, they tell us. It's losing touch with its roots, they argue.

The last part might be true – but so what? You don't hear people complaining because psychoanalysis has moved beyond Freud or because computers have developed past CP/M and DOS. Times change, and so do tastes.

As to whether the blues is dying, consider the evidence for yourself. Carl Weathersby and James Solberg both have new albums out. Still firmly rooted in the blues, but fully modern – and writing for a contemporary audience.

Carl Weathersby's new release on Evidence Music is one of the most interesting of recent blues recordings. He reminds a bit of Robert Cray with his ability to write and cover songs that are equal parts radio-accessible crossover hits-in-waiting and complex jazz-tinged art.

While a top-notch guitarist and smooth singer, Weathersby's greater appeal comes from his arrangements. Incorporating electric rock influences with Stax/Volt horn charts and thoughtful improvisation, Weathersby could just as easily play jazz or R&B as the blues.

His "Everything I Do" sounds as authentically New Orleans as his cover of Allen Toussaint's "We All Want to Boogie"; the soft, evocative vocals are a bit of a reach for Weathersby's workmanlike voice – but the lack of range seems to add a charming vulnerability. And his guitar lines here are as distinctively crisp as those made famous by Fenton Robinson.

He also offers tight covers of Albert King, Al Green and Johnny "Guitar" Watson. His backing guitarist, Rico McFarland, also penned three of the 13 songs here. They're not all great, but there are no dogs, either.

James Solberg has been knocking about the blues scene for more than a quarter-century. He was longtime partner and collaborator with the late blues great Luther Allison, and this is his first solo release since Allison's untimely death (and third solo outing total).

It's hard to think of anyone who plays with as much ferocious intensity as Solberg – early Johnny Winter, perhaps. Never wild, though – Solberg plays hard and fast, but in control, always in control. He has a veteran's timing, and his rough vocals offer balance to his edgy guitar solos. The whole creates what the Hollywood types call "a sound": within a few bars, you can tell that it's Solberg playing.

"L.A. Blues" doesn't have the kind of dark, manic spirit that his first album, "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" did – but heck, that was one of the best electric blues albums recorded this decade. The new one is a bit more polished, in some ways lacking a certain allure for it, but still an outstanding recording. Shoot, buy the disc just to hear his eight-minute brooding cover of Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man."

Next time some blowhard tries to convince you the blues are dying, spin one of these discs for them.