Listening to the easy grooves of Jimmy Carpenter’s latest album is what we in Scotland would describe as “comfy”. Like getting your slippers on and putting your feet up on a filthy winter’s day, such as it is as I write, it’s a relaxing experience that puts a smile on your face.
Carpenter is best known for his sax playing talents, for which he has received multiple Blues Music Award nominations. But on Soul Doctor he also lays out his songwriting and vocal credentials to good effect over the course of ten songs, eight of them originals. In his best moments he puts me in mind of the likes of Delbert McClinton and Southside Johnny, even
|Jimmy Carpenter - check that horn!|
You might suppose that the Southside Johnny comparison originates in Carpenter’s sax playing, and the additional horns of trumpeter Doug Woolverton and baritone sax man Mark Earley that are put to good use across several tracks. But what we have here isn’t the hard-driving soul usually characteristic of the Asbury Jukes. Instead, on my favourite track ‘When I Might You’, there’s an old soul vibe that reminds me of Southside and the gang covering Sam Cooke classics. It’s a really good tune, well suited to the horn-led approach, while Carpenter’s crooning vocal delivery shows off his voice at its best, and his sax solo is spot on.
The following ‘Wild Streak’, meanwhile, has that Delbert vibe in more ways than one. Musically, it’s a catchy, swinging slice of country soul boogie. And lyrically it captures Carpenter’s wry sense of humour nicely. It also benefits from some rinky-dink piano backing from Red Young, while for good measure long-time buddy Mike Zito adds a good time slide solo (rather than on the following track, as the sleeve notes suggest, I believe).
Other highlights include the cinematic, jazz-tinged instrumental ‘LoFi Roulette’, with its smoky, low down sax, underpinned by tasteful bass from Jason Langley, and featuring an edgy, piercing guitar solo from Chris Tofield. 'Need Your Love So Bad' is a dreamy slow blues with a Fifties mood and another tastefully smooth vocal plus a rich and romantic tenor sax solo, while ‘Wrong Turn’ deploys a quasi “shave-and-a-haircut” rhythm and ringing rhythm guitar, elevated by a knife-edge Tofield slide solo and the additional raunch of some harp from Al Ek.
The opening title track sets the tone for all of this, with its funky soul groove, a neat guitar solo from Nick Schnebelen, and the first of Carpenter’s cracking sax solos. A cover of Eddie Hinton’s ‘Yeah Man’ rounds things off nicely, with a droll, catchy chorus and hints of Dion in the tune, embellished by twinkling guitar and subtle organ, and sax and guitar intertwining cleverly as it winds to a close.
There may be a couple of lightweight offerings on Soul Doctor, but there’s still plenty in here to commend it, all wrapped up in a suitably cool and funky cover painting of a sax-tooting Jimmy by Randy Frechette. All in all Soul Doctor makes for a refreshing change from yer typical guitar-dominated blues affair – and, of course, a relaxing one.
Soul Doctor was released in Britain by Gulf Coast Records on 29 November 2019.