Blue Notes: 'Train Keeps a Rolling'
The cover shot for guitarist Jeff Golub's new CD, Train Keeps A Rolling, tells a story - as does its title. The picture features Golub, guitar case in hand, standing between two sets of railway tracks with a black Labrador.
Golub has endured a tough couple of years. In 2011, the optic nerves of his eyes inexplicably collapsed, leaving him blind. Then last year, while attempting to board a train, he misjudged the position of a carriage entrance, and fell on to the tracks. He was dragged a short distance by the train before fellow passengers pulled him to safety. Miraculously, he sustained relatively minor injuries.
The Labrador is his guide - although the pooch clearly wasn't paying close attention that day: it stayed on the platform.
A former rock musician who served long stints in the bands of Billy Squier and Rod Stewart, Golub is generally marketed as a "smooth jazz" artist, but like fellow guitarist Larry Carlton, who is pigeon-holed the same way, he has deep roots in the blues and plays with fire as well as finesse. In common with many American blues-based guitarists of his generation Golub, 58, started out copying the "British invasion" bands who had made their names playing Chicago blues-derived rock - among them The Yardbirds.
The title track, although an allusion and a tribute to Tiny Bradshaw's The Train Kept A Rollin', is a Golub original, and a wry reference to his accident.
A number of other tracks reflect his love of British rock, including covers of Paul Carrack's How Long from 1974, Sting's Walking On the Moon from 1979, and a version of Willie Dixon's I Love the Life I Live that's indebted to Georgie Fame's horn and Hammond organ-driven version from 1964.
Another notable British Hammond player from the 1960s is Brian Auger, best known for the cover of Bob Dylan's This Wheel's On Fire he cut with Julie Driscoll, a hit in 1968. Auger moved towards jazz in the 1970s, and he and Golub have a successful partnership in Train Keeps A Rolling: working with Auger has brought out the best in Golub's blues rock-meets-Wes Montgomery guitar work.
The organist doubles on Hammond and Fender Rhodes electric piano, and also contributes three original compositions, as well as bringing in long-standing associates drummer Steve Ferrone, bassist Derek Frank and guest vocalist Alex Ligertwood.
The album opens with a splendidly retro reworking of one of the signature tunes of a hero of Auger's: Jimmy Smith. Lalo Schifrin's The Cat was a hit for Smith in 1964, with Kenny Burrell playing guitar, and Golub and Smith have a great time with it, with strong support from a sharp horn section.
Other high points include Auger's Isola Natale and Shepherds Bush Market, Golub's title track with a driving Ferrone drum part which suggests a train in motion, and Curtis Mayfield's Pusherman. All are instrumentals.
The tracks featuring guest vocals are a mixed bag. Christopher Cross does a good job with How Long, but the inclusion of vocals on Walking on the Moon is perhaps ill advised. Although Golub's guitar replaces the verses sung by Sting, the chorus is a little too close for comfort to the Police original. Apart from a few spacey electric piano runs, Auger has little to do on the track, and the album's best moments feature both principal players working hard.
Still, it's generally a strong album with some fine guitar and keyboard work, and it's good to see Auger getting some well-earned exposure. Let's hope it marks the end of Golub's run of bad luck.
Three classic Hammond organ and guitar albums.
Talkin' About (1964, Blue Note): guitarist Grant Green spars with organist Larry Young, who later took the organ trio format into radical new territory with Tony Williams' Lifetime. Elvin Jones on drums completes a high-powered trio.
Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (1966, Verve): the first collaborative album recorded by Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery features some fine bluesy reinterpretations of four standards and one original from each of the principals - Montgomery's Road Song and Smith's James and Wes. Other notable participants in the sessions included Clark Terry on trumpet and Grady Tate on drums.
It's Uptown (1966, Columbia): the second album to feature guitarist George Benson as the principal artist, but the first with his own band; this marks the beginning of his partnership with organist Dr Lonnie Smith. They strike sparks off each other.