Saturday, June 8, 2024

Toronzo Cannon - Shut Up And Play!

Oh yeah.
Toronzo Cannon is back, with an album that shows a modern master of Chicago blues at work. On Shut Up And Play! you get 12 songs spread over 52 minutes, there ain’t none of ‘em below par, and the end result is even better than his last album The Preacher, The Politician Or The Pimp - and that was hot stuff itself.
First up among the reasons for this – the guy writes real, modern, sharp songs.  Whether it’s social commentary, emotional reflection on personal relationships, or good ol’ fashioned blues boogie fun, the Cannonball hits the nail on the head.
Second, his singing and playing are up there with the best of ‘em.  His voice is resonant and assertive, with a bit of a rasp on top when he wants it, and he knows how to make a lyric convincing.  And he has his own guitar “voice” too, a tone all his own as he delivers scintillating licks and breaks that catch the ear and demand nods of appreciation.
Toronzo Cannon - blues is his business, and business is good
Pic by Roman Sobus
Third thing.  What a goddamn band he has playing with him. Hats off to bassist Brian Quinn, Jason ‘Jroc’ Edwards who contributes drums on 10 of the tracks, and keys man Cole DeGenova, who all show their mettle and ensure the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
The album is bookended by ‘Can’t Fix The World’ and the title track, both of which offer a tart take on the experience of ordinary, and especially black, people. “Can’t fix the world right now,” sings Cannon, but he still has plenty to say about it, asserting that “We know the problem, right from wrong / But why does justice take so long?”, against the backdrop of a terrific funky bassline from Quinn, jittering clavinet from DeGenova, and his own punchy licks and his own expressive, fuzz-enhanced soloing.  Meanwhile ‘Shut Up And Play!’ is an ironic retort to those who would like musicians to do just that, rather than expressing an opinion, pulling together grinding, reverberating chords, organ that swells and swirls, and a ‘Hey Joe’-like rolling bassline as Cannon observes that there’s “No forty acres for my family, that America promised us when they set us free.”  And you’d better believe he delivers the goods on guitar too, with some powerful, serrated-edge soloing right out of the top drawer.
In between these two tentpoles there’s a different kinda positive protest twist, with the gospellated ‘Had To Go Through It To Get To It’, all handclaps and chiming piano as Cannon observes that his grandad “caught hell in Mississippi”, and how it took resilience to make a new life in the North and become a proud black man.
There are a couple of more soulful outings, the first being ‘Message To My Daughter’, a meditation on the reverberating impact of a marriage break-up, which tries to find positives alongside the pain and comes with more top flight bass playing to go with Cannon’s sensitively delivered vocal. Then later there’s ‘Guilty’, which contemplates our everyday sins, and all of us being open to judgement, decorated by some warm piano from DeGenova and pinging guitar fills from Cannon, who closes with a controlled, conversational solo.
Cannon peeks into a trio of different bluesy avenues with ‘I Hate Love’, ‘Him’, and ‘If I’m Always Wrong’.  The first is a slower sorta swing’n’sway, locked in behind the beat by Edwards’ drums, with Cannon declaring “I hate love, it’s just a made up word” amid more great bass playing, and keys that fill in around the edges brilliantly, while Cannon also gets down to business with a terrific, teasing and spinning solo. ‘Him’ is liquid funkiness full of fluid guitar work, with a winding, perfectly weighted final solo.  And ‘If I’m Always Wrong’ tells the story of a guy who’s fed up of being put down, with melodic, anthemic piano chords providing something fresh to go with the searing guitar.
And there’s plenty fun stuff too, like the snappy, witty ‘Something To Do Man’, a variant on the ‘Ice Cream Man’ of blues lore that swaggers and shuffles along, Cannon delivering a surging, irresistible solo backed up by rattling piano, culminating in the cocky affirmation that “This is a public service announcement: I’m here for you”.  ‘Unlovable’ is a chugging mid-tempo boogie, lit up by gritty slide licks and bright, trilling piano. ‘Got Me By The Short Hairs’ is a rock’n’rollin’ frolic about the ins and outs of shotgun marriage, with a cavalier Cannon solo and propelled by crisp, punchy drums.  And lastly there’s the slinky and funny ‘My Woman Loves Me Too Much’ is a harp and acoustic led slowie – slow because our hero is worn out by the demands of his baby, who started “acting all frisky, ‘bout the age of 45”.
I’ve banged on about the whole kit and caboodle to make it damn clear that while electric blues may be Cannon's business, he gives it diversity with his fresh, smart songwriting, and no matter the style the execution by him and his buddies is right on the freakin’ money.
I'll wager Shut Up And Play! will be the best straight-up blues albums to land this year.  And for me Toronzo Cannon is the natural successor to Buddy Guy – accept no substitutes.
 
Shut Up And Play!
 is out now on Alligator Records.

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