Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater,
Reservation Blues
(Bullseye, 2000)

It's been 50 years since Edward Harrington blew into Chicago from Mississippi, and the experience of every one of those years can be heard on Reservation Blues. It's a good, solid blues/R&B album, with just enough surprises to keep you guessing.

The Chief plays some fine guitar, but it's his voice that keeps you listening, that and the variety of songs on this album, everything from down-home blues to Chuck Berry. We start out with "Winds of Change," an R&B social anthem, on which The Chief moans and growls and sings about those "Winds of change, so mean and strange." It's a bit of a downer, but its strength is undeniable. The tempo and spirit picks up with "I Wouldn't Lay My Guitar Down," an original by The Chief that holds more than a trace of Berry. It's a hot rocker, and you won't be able to hold still when you hear it.

"Find Yourself" is in a traditional Chicago groove. Carey Bell does his usual tear-it-up harmonica work on this one, while The Chief pleads for his baby to "Find Yourself." The title track follows: "Like a chief without his squaw, I've got those reservation blues." He does a nice, slow and funky guitar solo to start things off, and Dennis Taylor gives out with some cool and mellow tenor sax sounds.

Next is another Chief original called "Walls of Hate," a minimalist social commentary that's unbelievably catchy even as it sells the themes of love and brotherhood. It may be the best song on the album. "Running Along" is a very slow blues, deep and soulful, with some simple if emotionally complex solos. We get the sole instrumental with "Blues Cruise," on which The Chief shows that he knows the values of silence as well as the values of sound, and that notes not played can be just as effective as the notes that are. This one has a groove as infectious as stomach flu, and if you're not moving, you're dead.

An old standby, "Susie Q," follows. It's fun, but there's nothing here you haven't heard before. "Easy Is My Style" works much better, and the title is right on the money. This is a real easy slow-rocking blues. The next song, "Everything to Gain," should become a blues standard. It's pure blues, but it's also encouraging, "'cause when you lose everything, you got everything to gain," and The Chief sings it with grit and conviction. For the final tune, we get an actual Chuck Berry composition, "Sweet Little Rock and Roller," and The Chief does a bangup job on it.

If you're looking for a traditional Chicago blues album, you won't find it here. Oh, there's some, but you'll hear mostly great R&B, performed by a veteran blues vocalist with a pure blues sensibility. If you dig music that moves and grooves, you won't be wasting your time if you powwow with The Chief.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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