Tribute albums often tend to be hit-or-miss affairs, multi-artist collections as often as not shaped by the releasing label's marketing department as by the contributing artist's respect for the honoree. Which makes Amos Garrett's Get Way Back all the more remarkable. A heartfelt tribute to the great R&B singer and songwriter Percy Mayfield (with an emphasis on the blues side of rhythm & blues), Get Way Back is an amazing collection of some of Mayfield's best and best-known songs, delivered nearly pitch-perfect by the underrated blues guitarist and singer Amos Garrett and friends.
Amos Garrett's Get Way Back: A Tribute to Percy Mayfield
The Percy Mayfield story is one of triumph and tragedy, and not in the fantasy, motion picture sense where the pay-off comes after the hard times. In Mayfield's story, the success came before the decline, and the darkness that ruled the latter part of the artist's life is reflected in many of the songs that he wrote. Scoring a smash hit with his 1950 song "Please Send Me Someone To Love," Mayfield's rich voice, songwriting skills, and handsome appearance made him a popular live draw. However, a 1952 auto accident disfigured his face and made him hesitant to perform unless he needed the money.
Although his recording career never again matched the successes of the early-1950s, Mayfield continued to write - prolifically, in fact - earning him the sobriquet "poet laureate of the blues." Through the years, a number of blues and R&B artists have recorded Mayfield's songs, from Ray Charles, Etta James, and Bobby "Blue" Bland to B.B. King, Luther Allison, and Nappy Brown, among many others. Garrett has long cited Mayfield as an influence on his singing and songwriting efforts.
Songs of Triumph and Tragedy
Get Way Back opens with "My Jug and I," which has a casual smoothness to it, Garrett's coarse baritone vocals matched by swaying horns and a slow, laid-back rhythm. The song's heartbroken storyline is afforded proper respect by Garrett and crew, the protagonist's spiral into depression and alcoholism achieved in less than three staggering minutes. Garrett's incredible guitar tone frames the bluesy "Pretty Eyed Baby," his somber vocals complimented by the tasteful background horns of Dave Babcock and Alistair Elliott.
Returning home to Louisiana for a brief while after his accident, "Stranger In My Hometown" is a brilliant accounting of Mayfield's snubbing by old friends and family that prompted him to return to Los Angeles. Garrett cuts loose with a mournful guitar solo, Babcock's sax blastin' the blues to the core of the song. Perhaps the most lyrically upbeat song on Get Way Back, "The Country" is an observation on life with a quieting, slowly-shuffled rhythm, dashes of Ron Casat's Hammond organ, deep vocals, and an elegant guitar break from Garrett.
Stunning Guitar Performances
Garrett offers up another stunning guitar performance on "To Claim It's Love," his trembling tone and muted elegance subtly playing off the song's wistful lyrics. The relatively up-tempo "River's Invitation" is another bluesy take on the Mayfield style, Elliott's trumpet driving the tale of depression and temptation. Garrett caresses the lyrics of "Fading Lover" like a heartbroken romantic, crooning the words as sparse horns and a jazzy rhythm offer a stylistic balance to Garrett's fluid fretwork.
The title track is an upbeat jazz-blues mix, Garrett meeting the song's demanding vocals with a truly gymnastic performance, to the point where the listener expects him to begin scatting across the potent, high-point horns. Instead, he picks up his six-string and counters with a jolting, bopping guitar break. The album-closing "Lost Mind" is a jazzy rocker with rollicking vocals, a seriously swinging horn line, and a strong sense of rhythm. Featuring another fine vocal turn by Garrett, the song does an excellent job of illustrating the hopeful, romantic heart that often hid beneath the dark emotional hue of Mayfield's best material.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Whether by choice, or due to licensing conflicts, Get Way Back lacks two of Mayfield's biggest hits: "Please Send Me Someone To Love" and "Hit The Road Jack" (a whopper for Ray Charles). Nevertheless, Get Way Back offers up a fine selection of Mayfield's songs, Garrett's homage to Mayfield's influence on his own music delivered with class and style. Garrett's six-string work is wonderfully understated, downplayed in favor of his soulful vocals, while the band's part in this gem is equally impressive, especially the horn section's contributions, which add texture and feeling to Garrett's interpretations of the songs. Altogether, Get Way Back is not only a strong introduction to Percy Mayfield's songs, but also to Amos Garrett's sublime talents. (Stony Plain Records)