Reviews Zone

Big Daddy Wilson: Neckbone Stew (Ruf Records) 10th February

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)


Now this is a real blues man with a real blues voice on a real blues album! If cool, roots blues is your thang and the likes of Keb Mo, Taj Mahal and Eric Bibb float your boat, then you are gonna love this one. I sure did/do.

Talking of Mr Bibb; Eric says: “As soon as you hear Big Daddy Wilson’s voice, whether speaking or singing, you hear his southern country roots. It’s a voice baptised in the river of African-American song, a voice with the power to heal”. Amen to that.

There is definitely something soothing and calming about his vocal delivery, and the chilled-out vibe here, especially on the stripped back more acoustic approach. But also on the up-tempo stuff of this baker’s dozen. Lashings of gospel stylee and at times, this reminded me of the wonderful Holmes Brothers output. Now that is some compliment.

Funny thing is; while this cool cat was born and raised in the American South of Edenton, South Carolina, and he sang in church as a child (as a way his Mother and Grandmother could keep him off the streets and in their mind, away from drugs), it was in Europe where he discovered the blues and his love for it.  

Raised a real country boy in the deep South, amid abject poverty, in the late 1970s he escaped to Germany when he enlisted in the US Army. It was here he first heard and fell in love with the blues.  A shy boy, he had never set foot on a stage and had sung only in church with his family. But them there blues got a hold of him and his fears were no more. He discovered a talent for song writing and his unmistakable voice. Since he moved to his adopted home in Germany, he has released four albums, and toured for two decades across the USA, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.

This his fifth album, has a title that sums up what it’s all about. Take a ride through the Southern States and you’ll hear a thousand musical flavours. On “Neckbone Stew,” they are expertly stirred into one record. “It’s a mixture of all the spices and good stuff you’ll find in most Southern kitchens,” says the award-winning bluesman. “To make a good stew, you need a little bit of everything, and this was the idea I went with for my new CD. A beautiful mélange of blues, spiritual, roots, soul and reggae. I just felt like mixing it up this time.”

He earned critical acclaim for studio albums like 2009’s “Love Is The Key”, 2011’s acoustic offering “Thumb A Ride”, 2013’s “I’m Your Man” and 2015’s “Time”. But “Neckbone Stew is the jewel in Big Daddy’s catalogue, in his view. “For me,” he says, “it sits on top. The latest is always the greatest. I was in the mood, like John Lee Hooker said.”

If the album brings together a variety of genres, then it also unites a dream-team of musicians who helped these 13 songs soar. Led by the multi-instrumental talents of Wilson himself on vocals, guitar and percussion, long-standing Trio members Cesare Nolli (guitar) and Paolo Legramandi (bass) brought flair to the Italian sessions. There are some special guests too. Ruthie Foster, Staffan Astner and Big Daddy’s blues hero, Eric Bibb. The CD was produced by the Goosebumps Brothers and mastered at Abbey Road Studios in London.

A good mix of styles and a great fit with each other across the 13 cuts. We get rolling acoustic blues of the opener “Cross Creek Road”. The exuberant brass lines, wah guitar and bad-luck lyric of “7 Years”. The melancholy clipped chords of “Damn If I Do”. The album’s title track switches from gritty slide-blues into cool reggae vibes. Mr Wilson has a dig about the digital generation burying their heads into screens and not communicating properly as human beings on “I Just Need A Smile”.

You can hear his influences being given a nod across this album. Eric Bibb plays guitar on two cuts; “He’ll Make A Way,” and “Cookies Gonna Kill Me”, which he co-wrote, both recorded in Sweden. The rest of the tracks recorded in Italy. The incomparable Ruthie Foster sang lead vocal on the Tracy Chapman cover; “Give Me One Reason.”

This is a man totally at ease in his own skin as an artist and being himself. It is top notch in quality on all points; from audio quality to the performances, to the material and…well, everything is good in this kitchen.To use a food theme based around the title; this is a filing, tasty main course and there’s plenty to share at this table where the catering is in the safe hands of head chef Big Daddy Wilson. Oh, and when was the last time you heard a tuba on a blues record, coz there’s one here?

You can catch BDW on tour in his own right, and as part of the Ruf Records Blues Caravan 2017, “Blues Got Soul” tour, featuring UK soul man Si Cranstoun and Philly singer and sax player Vanessa Collier. Plus special guest guitarist Laura Chavez, formerly of the Candye Kane Band and backed by an ace band, which includes UK bass legend Roger Inniss, who recently left The Laurence Jones Band after two years.


By Simon Redley


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