Billy Stapleton,
Slide Swiped
(Studio North, 2006)

It was a great pleasure to hear Billy Stapleton's new offering, Slide Swiped, which, as you might guess, is an all slide guitar CD. The veteran guitarist is happily responsible for writing all but two tracks on the CD, and he is joined by a talented cast of friends, each bringing his own skills to blend with the maestro.

The crew is Tommy Morgan and Alan Isaacson on drums; "Little Bill" Englehart on Fender 5 string bass; Dick Powell and Mark Ross on keyboards; John Hodgkin providing his inimitable and phenomenal vocals; Kelly Leifer on Fender bass; Bobby Vega on '60 Fender jazz bass; and of course, Billy in high style on his smorgasbord of guitars: a '54 Tele & Frankencaster slide, Fender Strat slide, 1932 National Style O Resophonic, '42 Gibson Southern Jumbo, Pocket Steel, Les Paul Special and Fender Mongrel Strat slide.

The album has 11 tracks, launching with "Could Not Sleep," dedicated to his wife Roni, which has a solid rhythm and gutsy vocals, and the guitar sliding and swerving over and under the vocals like a Corvette on a busy highway. "The Devil Came Home Early" weaves a more sensuous tempo with some classic keyboard work accentuating the sway and strop of the guitars, not so much a pussycat rubbing around your legs looking for milk, but a cougar wanting more cream! "Some Days are Better Than Most" opens with a country lilt, slipping into a classic, almost religious blues twang -- a couple of minutes of pure nostalgia, which is picked up and given a shot of bourbon in "Bible on the Hood," vocals by its writer, Little Bill. The keyboards are punchy, the drums domineering, yet above all the guitars combine to give the song the real kick and burn.

The mood mellows again in "Showbiz," and there is a perfect balance between the thought-provoking lyrics and the buzzing, thrumming guitars and their occasional forays into the stratosphere. "On the Prairie" -- the longest track at over 6 minutes -- opens with a brilliant evocation of wind and the wild coyote howls, leading the listener into the open spaces defined by Fender Mongrel and bass, striding through the grasses, alone in the wilderness, under roiling skies, the thunder and lightning never far away, until you are drenched in sound and rain both. Stapleton alters the mood with a swift rendition of "Turkey in the Mayonnaise," and closes the album with "Amazing Grace" and "Walkin' Cane." The former, a solo performance by Billy on the 1932 National Style O Resophonic, demonstrates fingerpicking skills that, I would imagine, are thanks in practice for the Seattle Hand Surgery Group; a tribute to the musician's determination in the face of pain and adversity; and proof that Billy Stapleton is still and again a master in charge of the diverse instruments which fall under the category of guitar. The latter concludes in gentle tempo, a foot-tapper and finger drummer, but mellow, musing and with care not to spill your favourite tipple.

This is a triumph of an album, proof that sequels need not be of lesser quality than introductions, and a welcome return of stylish blues.

by Jenny Ivor
3 March 2007

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