Shimmering synths...blues masters mumbling...annoyingly Steve Millerish riffs. Depending on the quality of your chiba, this curious little record is either an intriguing fusion of traditional blues and industrial ambiance, or a nauseating corruption of Howlin' Wolf and his ilk. (Warning: Please don't play for your blues-purist buddies.)
Although he no longer lives in the land of "the Hawk," Carey Bell is one of the greatest proponents of the Chicago sound. Synthesizing the lessons he learned at the sides of masters Little Walter Jacobs and Big Walter Horton, Bell's harmonica voice utilizes a natural sense of swing, plenty of urban grit, and laconic yet articulate phrasing; it's just this mixture of streetwise funk and down-home warmth that defines Chicago blues. And the appropriately titled Deep Down, his first release as a leader for Alligator, is about as definitive a collection of the genre as you're likely to find.
Backed by a grinding six-piece, Bell is totally at ease, perhaps due to his familiarity with the players. His son Lurrie unleashes some scalding guitar runs, as does Chicago cohort Carl Weathersby, an exciting and muscular player. Always welcome at any blues session, Lucky Peterson and Johnny B. Gayden provide tasty piano fills and bounding bottom, respectively. Nailing down the rhythm section is Killer Allison, Buddy Guy's drummer.
With the exception of one Sonny Boy Williamson, one Muddy Waters, and one Eddie Burns cover, plus paybacks to the Walters A Little's "I Got to Go," which kicks off the proceedings on a jumping note, and Big's "Easy," which closes out this dirty dozen on a cool, mellow tone A the rest of the tunes are Bell originals. Two standouts are the instrumental shuffle "Jawbreaker," and the slow and stunning "When I Holler," showcasing Bell's incredible chromatic harp and expressive singing to their full deep blues potential.
Bell revisits his "Let Me Stir In Your Pot," which he recorded with Bill Wharton on the Tallahassee slide-guitarist's last album, but this time he plugs in the amps. Although our preference is for the wood-based version, where he and Wharton were joined by Kenny Neal on second guitar (check the Sauce Boss's South of the Blues on Ichiban), the electric version still burns with lascivious glee.
Bell's interpretation of Eddie Burns's "When I Get Drunk" adds a menacing feel to this good-time party tune, mostly attributed to a heavy repeated guitar riff. But Bell's huge sense of humor shines throughout, especially on his version of a song associated with Muddy Waters: "I Got A Rich Man's Woman." Bell pays tribute to his one-time boss, copping his phrasing and blowing furiously between hilarious verses.
Although Deep Down can be plodding A this is no-nonsense knife-in-your-eye-tire-jack-upside-your-head Chicago blues A Bell and company's playing more than compensates.