Monday, October 10, 2022

Jimmy Hall - Ready Now

Once upon a time, many moons ago, Jimmy Hall was singer, harmonica and sax player with the Southern rock band Wet Willie.  They had some big hits Stateside back in the Seventies, but suffice to say their name only registers at the edge of my consciousness.  So I come to his new solo album Ready Now, produced by the increasingly busy duo of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, with no real expectations.
Initial signs are promising, as the boogie of opening track ‘Jumpin’ For Joy’ aims to deliver a good time, and succeeds.  The guitar riffing may be pretty simplistic, but with skedaddling drums from Greg Morrow, bursts of organ and barroom piano from the ubiquitous Reese Wynans, and
Jimmy Hall checks out the bar to see if Bonamassa is getting his round in
Pic by Drew Stawin
a rock’n’rollin’ solo from Bonamassa, it’s an infectious concoction.  And Hall plays his part too, hollering away over the top like a good ‘un, and giving his harp a satisfying blast too.
For a guy in his seventies, Hall’s voice is in admirable nick, with plenty of wattage and range.  What he does with it is more of a mixed bag however.  On the following ‘Risin’ Up’, with its soulful ‘Take Me To The River’ type vibe, he gives it plenty without offering much light and shade.  The same is true on 'Ready Now' itself, a song about turning over a new leaf that all sounds a bit earnest, but is redeemed by a slide soul from Warren Haynes that carries some real cutting edge.  And if his harp solo on the song-of-the-road ‘Will You Be Here’ shows plenty of subtlety, his vocal could be more supple.
He does better elsewhere though, his urgency and power working a treat on the rocking ‘Girl’s Got Sugar’, with its hard-chugging rhythm guitar, more stonking keys from Wyman, and an excellent, ducking and diving guitar excursion from Josh Smith.  And he shows more vocal variety on both ‘Holding On For Dear Love’ and ‘Without Your Love’. The former is a soulful ballad, a bit sugary for my taste, but given extra colour by the harmonies of Jade McCrae and Dannielle De Andrea – who deserve plaudits for their contributions to several tracks – and by a funky wah-wah turn from Bonamassa.  ‘Without Your Love’ is a contemplative affair led off by acoustic guitar, with the range and dynamics of Hall’s vocal suiting the growing intensity of feeling, and the guesting Jared James Nichols adding a tasteful, nicely toned guitar solo.
With the addition of the slowie ‘A Long Goodbye’, a Bonamassa co-write, it feels to me like there’s a bit much of this balladeering tendency, but at least this one has an epic, cinematic quality that’s very JB, topped off by him throwing the kitchen sink at a showcase solo, before an anthemic refrain to close.
Other songs explore different directions, with mixed results.  ‘Dream Release’, a co-write between Hall and his son, is an elegy for his friendship with Greg Allman, but to these ears works none too well, maudlin in tone and sounding like it originated in musical theatre.  ‘Love For It’, contrastingly, is a little gem.  With its out of the ordinary percussion and bass framework, soul-gospel roots, and unusual shift in tone from verse to chorus, it may not be a barn burner, but it’s still a genuinely original song.  And Hall does a good job narrating the bluesy song of experience ‘Eyes In The Back Of Your Head’, as it ripples along on acoustic guitar, and tootling harp.
Bonamassa completists may be interested in Ready Now for his five co-writes and varied guitar contributions. Overall though, it’s an inconsistent album.  Some tracks hit the mark, but others fall a bit short, especially when they lean towards the emotive.  Throwing a bit more wit and rock’n’roll into the mix may have suited Jimmy Hall better.
Ready Now
 is out now on KTBA Records, and can be ordered here.

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