Guitarist Eric Lindell has been kicking around the blues world for over a decade now, first in and around his San Mateo, California hometown during the late-1990s and, with the turn-of-the-decade, from his new base in New Orleans. Soaking up the historic city's immense musical culture while working with drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio from the band Galactic, Lindell has forged a distinctive sound that serves as an important counterpoint to his skilled fretwork.
Signing with the notable blues label Alligator Records, Lindell has delivered three increasingly confident and mature works in three years, culminating with 2009's Gulf Coast Highway. With fifteen songs, twelve of which were written or co-written by Lindell, Gulf Coast Highway features a talented band that includes contributions from folks like guitarist Chris Mule, harp player Sean Carey, and saxophonists Jimmy Carpenter and Derek Huston, as well as the aforementioned Moore and Mecurio, among others. First and up-front, though, are Lindell's soulful vocals and tantalizing guitarplay.
Eric Lindell's Gulf Coast Highway
One needn't go any further than Lindell's "If Love Can't Find A Way," which opens Gulf Coast Highway, to hear what the man is all about. Featuring a fat sound with a deep horn section blastin' away, Lindell throws his warm vocals into the wall-of-sound mix, accompanied by a steady groove and Carey's spirited harpwork. The song's romantic theme is underwritten by its passionate soundtrack. The NOLA-flavored "Love And Compassion" mines much the same relationship theme, but with the swaggering joie de vivre of Dr. John, with saxplay and a syncopated rhythm paired with a solid vocal performance.
The up-tempo "This Love Is Gonna Last" is another heady taste of musical gumbo, with an energetic and, at times, chaotic soundtrack that is highlighted by one of Lindell's trembling guitar solos, delivered high above the rolling drumbeats and icy horns. The lively "It's A Drag" swings with more energy that an elementary school playground at recess. Lindell puts his vocals into overdrive above the raging instrumentation that includes some well-timed bursts of harp and a steady rhythmic backbone.
Back To The Swamp
The swamp-funk of "The Look" is complimented by spry vocals laid down against a horn-driven R&B revue-styled backdrop while the Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson outlaw country tune "I Can Get Off On You" is re-invented as a rollicking Neville Brothers/Bourbon Street rave-up. With keyboardist Marc Adams pounding away at the ivories Professor Longhair-style, Lindell's slinky vocal gymnastics are driven by a martial beat and, no doubt, plenty of red beans 'n' rice and Dixie beer.
The funky R&B number "Country Livin'" spotlights Jimmy Carpenter's blustery saxplay set against Lindell's soulful vocals, the song a rapid-paced blues-rocker with plenty o' energy, a strutting rhythm, Chris Dejohn's explosive drumbeats, and a soupcon of guitar. Delbert McClinton's wonderful "Here Come The Blues Again" is a languid Texas-styled country-and-blues tune with reckless instrumentation and a taste of honky-tonk piano while Lindell's "Raw Doggin'" is a Booker T & the MGs/Stax soul instrumental showcase where guitarists Lindell and Chris Mule, saxmen Carpenter and Huston, keyboardist Marc Adams, and drummer Dejohn all get a chance to shine.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
It's a measure of an artist's confidence in his talent when he can set himself behind his band as Eric Lindell has on Gulf Coast Highway. Obviously a skilled six-string technician capable of wringing every bit of soul out of his instrument, Lindell often allows the harmonica, saxophone, or piano to take as much of a lead as he does. When Lindell does cut loose with his guitar, however, the resulting flurry of notes typically enhances, rather than dominates the song.
Gulf Coast Highway represents one of the new faces of blues music, a heady brew that incorporates traditional and Chicago-style blues with Memphis soul, classic R&B, a little jazz, and roots-rock in the creation of something entirely new and refreshing. Lindell adds a little Louisiana hot sauce to the pot in the form of his unique guitar style and blue-eyed soul vocals, and when mixed with his still-maturing, intelligent wordplay, what you have is pure musical magic. (Alligator Records, released March 24, 2009)