The crackling inspiration and fire filling the dozen cuts on Brad Absher’s latest release, Lucky Dog, is no doubt the product of working with such a top flight outfit. Swamp Royale, particularly its rhythm section, is a band capable of doing anything and going anywhere Absher’s muse wants to travel. They tear through a collection with various tempos, styles, and even a country song with a relish that much younger bands wouldn’t be able to match. There’s a wonderful lack of self-consciousness about the performances that will further endear this release to many – if this music is passé, Brad Absher thankfully never got the memo. Instead, he’s a performer and writer with rare creative vision who seamlessly brings together a number of complementary styles into something grander that he can claim as all his own. At this late date, such originality doesn’t come easy, but Absher is more than an ambassador for tradition. The songs are full of rich experience and never sound cheap or premeditated.
“Woman Who Loves Me” might take its subject matter and vocal growl from a long blues tradition, but this is far from a strictly blues tune. There’s a cracking R&B swing that keeps things from ever getting too leaden and the inclusion of Hammond B-3 organ lines acts as a another “guitar” in the mix laying out a variety of colorful fills. “Memphis On The Way”, however, is pure unadulterated blues magic from the first bar onward. Absher really sinks his teeth deep into the words and vocal melody. It has the sort of gritty, slow burn magic that this style requires. “Not Tonight” is one of Lucky Dog’s more musically unusual numbers. Absher’s country music influences come through here, particularly Bob Wills and his brand of country swing, and it never sounds studied or academic. Instead, there’s an impressive naturalness about the performance that clearly shows him quite comfortable with the material and vocal pose.
The great Etta James classic “I’d Rather Be Blind”, often covered, has new life breathed into it with Absher’s version. He unwinds the vocal with tremendous passion, but it’s never melodramatic or heavy handed. His phrasing concentrates, instead, on investing each of the lines with convincing emotion and matching the searing guitar lines bubbling out of the mix. “I Can’t Wait” is a memorable R&B rave up with the same horns and crescendo laden arrangement that marks the best of those sort of tunes on Lucky Dog. It’s also placed at a great point in the album as it sets up a final swing through the final quarter of the release. “Same Love” is the funkiest moment on the album thanks to the intense rhythm section performance that manages to move, stay elastic, and yet exquisitely precise throughout. The album’s final song, “I Need Drink”, is likely one of Lucky Dog’s subtler numbers thanks to the multiple emotional meanings threaded through its lyrical content. The musical arrangement complements it quite well. It’s mildly humorous, if a bit darkly so, and ends Lucky Dog on a memorable note.
9 out of 10 stars