Tuesday, January 10, 2012

CD Review: Paul Rodgers & Friends - Live at Montreux 1994

CD Review: Paul Rodgers & Friends - Live at Montreux 1994
Eagle Records
All Access Review:  A-

In 1993, Paul Rodgers was a free man. The Firm had dissolved, the legendary front man was above and beyond The Law, Bad Company had become a distant, but still treasured, memory and the revered Free was long gone. Left with nothing to do, the singer with the brawny, torn-and-frayed pipes and expressive, denim-clad delivery looked again to the blues, his one true love, for inspiration. He found it in the music of Muddy Waters.
Keen to pay homage to the great man, Rodgers didn’t break character. Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters may have contained the spark of the Chicago-style electric blues that Waters once perfected, but it was powered by the blues-rock combustion of Rodgers’ work with Bad Company and Free. Not all of the tracks on Muddy Water Blues, the second of Rodgers’ solo albums, were Waters covers, but his spirit haunts the record, inhabiting its grooves and inspiring Rodgers and his collaborators. In 1994, a year after Muddy Water Blues’ arrival, Rodgers brought much of that record to life in a blustery, sweaty concert at Montreux, where he was joined onstage by the likes of Journey guitarist Neal Schon, drummer Jason Bonham, guitarist Ian Hatton and bassist John Smithson, as well as several guests, including Queen’s Brian May, Toto’s Steve Lukather and blues veterans Luther Allison, Eddie Kirkland, Sherman Robertson, Robert Lucas and Kenny Neal.
Though a star-studded affair, Live at Montreux 1994 has more of a blue-collar feel. This is a workingman’s record, with dirt under its fingernails and calluses on its hands. Sprinkled with plenty of songs that Rodgers made famous with Free and Bad Company, Live at Montreux 1994 also finds Rodgers digging his hands into the earthy soil of blues classics like Waters’ “Louisiana Blues,” which simmers with menace and pure nastiness on the stove here, letting all the rich flavors – including a particularly tasty guitar solo – sink into its meaty textures. In a surprising turn, May gets down and dirty on the Sonny Boy Williamson number “Good Morning Little School Girl,” his distorted guitar becoming a careening crop duster that dives and climbs with all the daring of pilot with a death wish. The highlight of a sensational set, “Good Morning Little School Girl” is simply mean, burning with intensity and passionate playing. To finish off the night, Rodger and crew slam into Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” and the closer, “Hoochie Coochie Man” by Willie Dixon, with all the force of a hurricane. The guitars sound like switchblades on and cut deeply with every note on “Crossroads,” as the rhythm section works up a mean, mean thirst crawling through the gutter on “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
Three of the songs Dixon wrote for Waters, including 1954’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I’m Ready” and 1961’s “Let Me Love You Baby,” are included here and performed with all the righteous fervor of a tent revival ministry, as is Booker T. & the MGs’ “The Hunter.” Just as propulsive and muscular are the Rodgers’ classics “All Right Now,” the old Free hit, and rust-covered Bad Company diamonds “Can’t Get Enough (of Your Love)” and “Feel Like Making Love.” Ever the professional, Rodgers’ nuanced vocals add richness and depth to each track, while his handpicked group of hired guns plays the daylights out of this material almost all the way through, with the exception of the rare uninspired moment. The recording quality is pretty sound and world-class music writer Malcolm Dome does the show justice with well-written, informative liner notes. All of this makes you wonder if, or when, Rodgers will delve even deeper into the blues down the road.

- Peter Lindblad

Purchase CD: Artist Link 

Collectible Vintage Posters:

Bad Company