A natural talent with a knack for penning vintage gems that harken back to the golden era of R&B, Eric Lindell is in top form on West County Drifter. After parting ways with Alligator Records in 2009, Lindell remained busy, independently releasing 2010’s Between Motion and Rest and 2011’s Cazadero on his own Sparco imprint. His current endeavor and first with New York’s M.C. Records, the double-disc West County Drifter, repackages these albums for national distribution.
Lindell kicks things off with the bouncy shuffle “Sentimental Lover,” which features venerated journeyman Delbert McClinton on harp. To usher in the second side, Lindell takes a turn on the harmonica himself on “Lucky, Lucky,” a tune originally cut by friend Peter Joseph Burtt. Burtt handles the vocal duties on a burning rendition of Magic Sam’s “That’s Why I’m Crying.” Derek Huston makes an appearance, brandishing both baritone and tenor saxophones on Titus Turner’s hound dog boogie, “Bow Wow.” Also joining the band is Dragon Smoke co-conspirator Ivan Neville who mans the keys on disc two.
Perhaps the most surprising contributions on West County Drifter come by way of its greenest guests, clarinetist Nick Ellman, pedal steel player Colin Lake, and slide guitarist Thomas Johnson. Ellman, the cousin of Galactic’s Ben Ellman, provides some of the collection’s most light-hearted moments, dancing across the title track and twinkling amidst the backdrop of a New Orleans-tinged cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Find Another Girl.” Lake burns on “I Ain’t Supposed To,” a second Mayfield cover, while Johnson wails on “It’s So Hard to Believe.” Elsewhere, Lake’s dynamic lead on the transcendent instrumental “24 Mile Bridge” recalls the soulful side of Robert Randolph, and Johnson’s Allman-esque ride in “Bodega” brings to mind Derek Trucks.
As for Lindell, his heartfelt lyrics and peerless croon are as fetching as ever. What sets this collection apart from others in his catalog is a conscious shift away from the increasingly polished, contemporary direction of his Alligator recordings towards a looser, grassroots-driven sound that better captures the easy grooving atmosphere of his live shows. What’s remarkable is that the vibe across this 18-song, two-disc affair never wanes. Credit Lindell’s superb production, his dedication to his vision, and the stellar cast of musicians involved in pulling this off.