I’ve been a bit slow getting around to this new album from Chicago’s Toronzo Cannon. Not through any lack of interest – I’ve got Cannon’s previous albums, and enjoyed seeing him live in 2017 – but just because I took my sweet time buying the thing. Blues Enthused, you understand, doesn’t rely entirely on freebies. And now I wish I’d been quicker off the mark, because The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp highlights three things about Toronzo Cannon. Firstly, he’s a damn fine blues guitarist. But that’s not the whole deal because, secondly, he’s also a damn fine soulful blues singer, whose voice aspires to the resonance of Sugaray Rayford. And thirdly, and most importantly, as a songwriter he shows a determination to be adventurous, with lyrics that have freshness and depth rather than ploughing the same old furrows.
Take the title track for instance. ‘The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp’ is a hunk of
|Toronzo Cannon shows off his Chicago-branded Telecaster|
Pic by Mike White
But at the other extreme there’s fun in the form of songs like the ‘Insurance’ and ‘Stop Me When I’m Lying’. The former is a mid-paced commentary on the necessity of health insurance, which has some spot on harp accompaniment from Billy Branch, successfully rhymes “third degree” with “colonoscopy”, and a hint of Elvin Bishop-like drollery with the single bass note that punctuates the end of each verse. ‘Stop Me When I’m Lying’, which follows, is party time. It’s got an offbeat rhythm from drummer Pooky Styx and honky tonk piano from Roosevelt Purefoy, some honking horns, and a suitably boisterous Cannon guitar solo.
Cannon also lays out a mini-suite of three songs, in different styles, about the nature of everyday relationships. ‘That’s What I Love About ‘Cha’ is a straight-up boogie about a bickering but loving couple – “You don’t put up the toilet seat”, complains the wife – with a rollicking guitar solo to complement more honky tonk piano, grooving bass from Marvin Little, and guest vocals from Nora Jean as the missus. ‘Ordinary Woman’ is a soulful, finger-clicking paean to the virtues of ordinary women, with some jazzy inflections. And ‘Let Me Lay My Love On You’ is a reflective lament about being apart from one’s partner, with some piercing guitar from Cannon underlining the sentiment.
But if those songs celebrate the everyday, there are also songs with more dramatic intent. Cannon mixes traditional blues with something lyrically unusual on ‘The First 24’, a meditation on the afterlife set to a rhythmic acoustic guitar riff and the restrained stomp of a kick drum. But ‘She Loves Me (Again)’ is a real highlight, a tale of domestic murder set to a slow blues, opening with a controlled wail of guitar, with strong storytelling punctuated by guitar licks that capture the mood, and tense, squealing solos with a couple of novel twists. And the album closes with ‘I’m Not Scared’, a song of defiance by characters who refuse to bow to abuse or prejudice, on which a strong riff contrasts with rippling piano, with some wiry, on point soloing and a slide guitar contribution from Joanna Connor.
The rest of the twelve tracks on offer are up to the mark too, but you can find out about them for yourself. And you really should, because The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp is an impressive album from start to finish. It is, I can personally assure you, well worth the money.
The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp is out now on Alligator Records.