Billy Boy Arnold, The Blues Soul of (Stony Plain)

Billy Boy Arnold, The Blues Soul of, album cover, OffBeat Magazine, November 2014

The number of Chicago blues artists that were active in the ’50s, and that are still out there today, can be counted on one hand.

Besides Billy Boy, off the top of my gray head, the only other one I can think of is Henry Gray.

Arnold, a harmonica player by trade, made his mark with a clutch of simple, classic small-combo singles waxed in the mid-’50s for Vee Jay Records—most notably “I Wish You Would” which never ventured beyond the key of A.

Produced by six-string wizard Duke Robillard, and endorsed by the Alberta Foundation of the Arts, The Blues Soul of—for better-or-worse—is not a straight blues release. Besides some excellent blues performances here, there are also strong elements of soul (hence the CD’s title?) jazz (trad and contemporary), as well as rock ’n’ roll.

Confirming this observation is the opening track “Coal Man” which flaunts a smoldering, horn driven Stax/Memphis groove. Billy Boy then gets to the business of the blues with the traditional “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” and the driving Ted Taylor lament “You Give Me Nothing To Go On.” Interestingly, Duke and Billy Boy return to Memphis with the Ann Peebles soul nugget “99 Lbs,” which grooves just like the original Hi single. Billy Boy does turn back the hands of time with “What’s On the Menu Mama,” “Keep On Rubbing” and especially, “Dance For Me Baby,” all which recall the Maxwell Street sound circa 1955.

Along the way, depending on your musical leanings, there are some songs that work, and some that are head-scratchers. Personally, listening to Billy Boy cop Cannonball Adderly’s “Work Song” makes little sense. On the other hand, Chuck Berry’s “Nadine” cuts the mustard—but that’s a great song, period. While Billy Boy’s driving the car here it’s obvious Robillard provides the directions.

But, petty bitching aside, this is an outstanding release. Folks that have a taste for the blues will want to check this one out.