East Side Slim
Curtis Salgado – Soul Shot
Curtis Salgado – Soul Shot – Alligator Records, 2012
Curtis Salgado has been performing since the 1970s, rising out of the Portland/Pacific NW music scene. He was co-frontman in Robert Cray's band (Curtis is on the 1st album), held the vocal/harp chair in Roomful of Blues for a time in the 1980s, and sang for Santana. He was also the inspiration for John Belushi's Jake Blues character – Belushi is said to have pretty much adopted Salgado's performing style for his own after coming into contact with Curtis during the filming of the Animal House movie in Oregon during the '70s.
Soul Shot is the album that fans of Salgado's live shows have been waiting for. Outside a tough blues-duo release in the 1990s with Terry Robb, this is the best recorded work of Curtis' career – which is how he is billing it himself in promotional material and interviews for Soul Shot. Salgado has long been noted as one of the strongest, most riveting singers working today, and he also happens to be a top-rate harmonica player. To appreciate the full impact of his harp playing you pretty much need to see Curtis perform live, but there are enough harp bites on this album to give you an idea of how he works his tone and tastefulness.
Most of the Phantom Blues band, including Tony Braunagel, Johnny Lee Schell, Mike Finnigan and Larry Fulcher, are on hand providing sympathetic backing for Salgado. Other notable contributors include Jim Pugh (Robert Cray Band) on piano and Marlon McClain (longtime guitarist for Salgado), as well as horn players Joe Sublett and Darrell Leonard. In terms of "what does this album sound like", this a soul record with blues roots, circa 1973. Salgado wrote or co-wrote 4 of the 11 tracks, with the other 7 cuts being covers of tunes associated with Bobby Womack, Parliament, O.V. Wright, The O'Jays, Otis Redding, The Detroit Emeralds and Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Salgado fully inhabits each tune, applying his signature to each and making them all sound fresh and alive. The project was recorded by Salgado and his co-horts, and then shopped to Alligator for release. So, if you have any qualms about the "Alligator sound" interfering with or watering down the impact of Soul Shot, rest assured that the CD retains the energy and vibrancy as recorded by Marlon McClain, Tony Braunagel and Salgado.
The Songs: (songwriters in parentheses)
1. What You Gonna Do? – (Darryl Carter, David Sanders & Bobby Womack)
--This high-energy slab of late '60s soul jump-starts the CD in fine fashion. Curtis is signifying, the B-3 is pumping and the horns are honking and squalling…what more do you really need?
--Note: this song was recorded by Bobby Womack as "What You Gonna Do (When Your Love Is Gone)" as the B-Side to the 1968 Minit single What Is This.
2. Love Comfort Zone – (Curtis Salgado, David Duncan & Kevin McKendree)
--In a nice bit of song sequencing, the tempo is dialed back a bit, giving the listener a rest after the bombastic – but nearly perfect – preceding cut. This song rides a nice sexy groove, with Curtis' grittily emotive vocals riding on a bed of B-3 organ and real live horns.
3. Getting' To Know You – (George Clinton & Garry Shider)
--This up-tempo number edges a bit too closely to 1978-era disco for me (it is essentially a disco tune…), but if you look past that and keep your ears open you'll be rewarded with exemplary piano work, intricate horn charts, fine background vocal work and a powerful lead vocal performance from Salgado. Additionally, Salgado chose to insert a short but tasteful harmonica solo into the song, kind of a Lee Oskar touch of sorts.
--Note: the song can be found as "Getten' to Know You" on Parliament's 1976 LP The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.
4. She Didn't Cut Me Loose – (Curtis Salgado, Marlon McClain & David Duncan)
--Ah, how about that for a lyrical turn? A broken hearted man suddenly realizes in a moment of clarity that he's actually better off without his old girl, even if he has to temporarily suffer the pains of a broken heart – the two of them were nothing but trouble for each other. Now he's free to be open to someone better for him…she didn't cut me loose, she set me free! This rides a real nice mid-tempo funky-soul melody, with burbling B-3 organ, hand percussion and some very tasteful harp lines snuck in here and there.
5. Nobody But You – (Charles Hodges)
--OH MY GOD – the Hi Records sound…I'm a sucker for that sound and it fits Curtis' style like a silk glove. Testifying vocals, flat-out cool rhythmic work, and punchy horns – it really doesn't get much better than this! Very few people can truly do justice to any song 1st sung by O.V. Wright, but Curtis Salgado is one of the people that can pull this trick off without the song suffering for it.
--Note: this one was recorded by O.V. Wright and released by ABC in 1976.
6. Let Me Make Love To You – (Alan Felder & Walter B. "Bunny" Sigler)
--This tune moves to the smoother gospel-infused style that was the Philadelphia Sound of the 1970s, heard from people like Teddy Pendergrass, The O'Jays, etc… This is a powerful ballad based around Curtis' singing and the B-3 and piano playing of Mike Finnigan and Jim Pugh (respectively.)
--Note: released by The O'Jays in 1975 on the Survival LP.
7. Love Man – (Otis Redding)
--While I enjoy Salgado's take on the smoother soul and R&B styles, my own soul gets ignited from Stax/Fame/Hi soul – a little rougher & tougher around the edges. The band takes this Otis Redding standard and kicks out the jams with it – pounding, pulsing, throbbing, sweaty….this is the real thing, baby!
8. He Played His Harmonica – (Curtis Salgado & Rusty Hall)
--This is a talking/singing funky clavinet (courtesy of Kurt Clayton) driven number that actually does feature Curtis playing harmonica. There's not nearly as much of that on Salgado's recordings as I would like (and has been a long-time complaint by fans of Curtis' live shows, which feature loads of terrific harp work), and he focuses on a smoother, street-wise harp sound here, along the lines of early Stevie Wonder or Lee Oskar (when he was with War.)
9. Baby, Let Me Take You In My Arms – (Abrim Tilmon)
--This number has more soul than I can stand…tension building and releasing…Curtis' vocals on the verses subdued but straining to the edges of breaking…moving into a rarely heard sweet falsetto during the choruses…rich swaths of B-3 washing over and around and underneath…well, done!
--Note: this song was released as "Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms)" by The Detroit Emeralds in 1972 on the You Want It, You Got It LP (funky Four Tops sound)
10. Strung Out – (Johnny "Guitar" Watson)
--Salgado takes on one of Johnny Watson's ballads from his (Watson's) gangster of love years. I have to admit that I tend to dismiss much of the music from that period of Watson's career, but after hearing how beautiful this tune is in Salgado's hands, it might be best to open my own ears and re-visit that material. Franck Goldwasser (Paris Slim in days past…) was brought in to provide the jagged Johnny Watson-style lead guitar work, and he does Johnny proud.
--Note: this song was released in 1979 on the What The Hell Is This LP
11. A Woman Or The Blues – (Curtis Salgado & David Duncan)
--Curtis is taking us to church on this one, as the intro is chock-full of hard gospel organ chording and piano triplets. He doesn't stop at the intro, either, applying a hard gospel melody and feel to this tune about making choices – in this case, a bluesman having to choose between the music that he feels deep in his soul or a woman who moves his soul. This is not necessarily an easy decision to make, either. This cut drives hard, and actually features a few moments of Salgado's amplified harp work – he really is a phenomenal harmonica player (catch his live show for more proof, in needed.)
Soul Shot from Curtis Salgado is poised to be regarded as one of the finest releases of 2012, especially in the soul/blues music category. For the most part it is unabashed hard soul, circa 1973 – powerful, emotional, warm and REAL. Salgado sings everything here as if his life depended on it, and considering his serious health issues of years past it probably did in a manner of speaking; it's hard to go through such life events without gaining a new-found appreciation for the things you love most. Salgado is backed by one of the finest groups of musicians around in the Phantom Blues Band, one of the strongest horn teams around in Joe Sublett and Darrell Leonard, and a handful of other special musical guests, as well as using his regular guitar player, Marlon McClain. For fans of soul music, run – do not walk – run out and purchase this CD. Blues fans with open ears and wide tastes should also be very happy with this album, especially if they favor music featuring loads of tasty B-3 organ. OK, let's rate this bad boy…Soul Shot is being given a deserved rating of 4.00 on the STLBluesometer. This is a good one; do not miss it!
For more information concerning Curtis Salgado, see the following websites:
Lee Howland - aka East Side Slim