SHORTSTUFF – Big Blue (Blonde On Blonde DCT16BB01)

Big BlueWhen I first played this album I assumed that Shortstuff were American and had been playing the blues for years. Big Blue has a confident swing about it that invites you in and settles you down. In fact Dave Thomas and Hugh Gregory met in London and once enjoyed a residency at the Half Moon. That was in the mid-70s and their debut album has taken forty-two years to emerge blinking into the light.

The earliest tracks here were recorded in 1975 and the rest in 1992 but the vintages are not revealed on the album. I’d guess that the later ones feature Steve Jinks on percussion and bass and have the feel of more modern recording technology but I could be wrong. The nine songs are all covers and come from a mixed bag of sources.

The opener is Johnny Cash’s ‘Hey Porter’ a single by the Man In Black in 1958. The original had all the hallmarks of Cash’s country style with that familiar bass riff. Shortstuff dispense with all that and turn the song into a lazy blues with two guitars playing contrasting parts and Thomas’ harmonica in the break. Next is ‘I Sing ‘Em The Way I Feel’ by J B Lenoir and again Shortstuff strip away the African influences of the original and almost take the song back to Lenoir’s early New Orleans style instead of the Chicago funk of his original. Even as “cover artists” Thomas and Gregory brought something of themselves to their choice of material.

There are two songs by J J Cale, including the gorgeous ‘Magnolia’ and other sources include John Mayall, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Dan Hicks. ‘Honeybabe’ is traditional and ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ is credited to Terry and McGhee rather than Vinson and Chatmon but it may be that Shortstuff just borrowed their arrangement.

Word has it that Shortstuff will reunite to tour this year.

Dai Jeffries

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