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Blues With a Feeling

[whitespace] Guitarist Carl Weathersby expresses his 'Restless Feelings' on new album

By Nicky Baxter

Life has not been easy for bluesman Carl Weathersby. First, there was a hellish tour of duty in Vietnam, then the looming sense of danger that comes with laboring as a prison guard and the frustration of being a lowly steelworker.

That frustration has been further stoked by his residence in a city he disdains--Chicago! Luckily, he possesses a guitar through which he releases some of his pent-up feelings. Restless Feeling (Evidence) is a form of musical therapy for Weathersby and a musical treat for the rest of us.

Weathersby learned his craft honestly, sneaking peeks as a kid at guitar guru Albert King at Chicago's Cadillac Club and gawking in awe at Howlin' Wolf during the Wolf's sound checks at that same venue. Years later, Weathersby wound up playing rhythm for the cantankerous King, a job that led to a 14-year stint with the popular S.O.B.s (a group boasting the sons of legendary bassist/songwriter Willie Dixon and harmonica player Carey Bell).

His reputation as a formidable guitarist was enhanced with the release of the W.C. Handy Award-nominated Don't Lay Your Blues on Me and its successor, Looking Out My Window. The new album consolidates those earlier successes.

As on his previous discs, Weathersby's approach to the blues is open-minded. Elements of Southern-style soul and tough-minded R&B fuse to produce a sound that acknowledges the past while remaining firmly planted in the present. His choice of material tells much of the story. In addition to his own compositions, Weathersby includes covers of songs by Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Al Green.

Sure, listening to tunes like "Matchbox Holds My Clothes," one cannot avoid comparing Weathersby to Albert King--indeed, King penned the song--yet the younger man puts his own spin on things with guitar work that is more facile than King's.

Watson's "Real Mutha Fuh Ya" reveals Weathersby's affinity for funky R&B. A slinky bass figure and in-the-pocket drumming lock down the groove, allowing space for jazz-inflected keyboards to add subtle color. Weathersby's laconic drawl brims with wry humor, yet lurking beneath is the feeling that the singer has learned life's lessons the hard way. There's nothing funny about Weathersby's guitar playing; it crackles with intensity.

"Rhymes," a relatively obscure Al Green ditty, retains its original Memphis-soul feel. The popping bass line, deceptively uncomplicated drumming and keening organ are all intact. Weathersby, no Al Green by a long shot, gives it his best shot. Limited in range, he croaks away in a baritone not dissimilar to blues singer Taj Mahal's (check out the playfully gruff introductory vocal bit). Here, Weathersby's guitar playing is relatively restrained, using the song's melody as a point of reference.

Everything He Does

On his own compositions, the bluesman's aggressive nature generally prevails. On cuts like "Woman's Song" and "Everything I Do," his guitar playing exhibits a kind of primal power.

The slow-simmering blues of the title track (also an original) finds the singer unable to shake the feeling that his lady is fooling around on him. The singer's pain and frustration are almost palpable; bristling with anger; his guitar solo is yet more eloquent, articulating the depths of his emotional despair with angular, single-note runs. On this song and elsewhere, Carl Weathersby answers definitively the age-old question--How blue can you get?

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Web extra to the January 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro.

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