BILL ROBERTS – Blues Rides Shotgun
You can purchase this recording here.
Read the Local Sounds Magazine feature on Bill Roberts by going here.
45+ years is a long time to woodshed for your first solo recording but Bill Roberts has hardly been an idle force, kicking around the local music longer than most musicians here have been alive and playing in such seminal bands as Spooner, Pat McDonald & the Essentials, the Clyde Stubblefield Band, Blue Beyond and with his own Bill Roberts Trio and Combo, among others.
Roberts kicks things off with two blues covers; Peter Green’s “Stop Messing Around” and Robert’s Johnson’s classic “Come On in My Kitchen,” paying homage to two of his heroes before launching into eight of his own original compositions. “Stop Messin’ Around” opens with Roberts and harmonica player Kit Gamble trading licks. Roberts demurs to both his brother Steve on keys and Gamble before finally launching into his own flaming solo. It’s typical of his humble and gentlemanly approach to life, friends and music but also of his approach to the concept of what a song should be. As a guitarist with a quiver full of lick arrows one might think there’d be some showing off but Roberts’ ace-up-his-sleeve is his restraint. As he states in this feature story he made a conscious effort to avoid songs that were just an excuse for soloing. “Come On in My Kitchen” is an acoustic-based standard and a polished-up gem in Roberts’ hands. A closer listen reveals the intricacies of what sounds like some easy finger-pickin’. When he does solo, his choice of tone, his exquisite phrasing, his fluid lines are near-perfection.
Every track on this album has a different coloring and, surprisingly the ballads are what stand out. “Mercy on Me,” with its soulful vocal and nearly gospel-like refrain, coupled with Steve Roberts’ Fender Rhodes piano and Bill’s gutsy, beautifully melodic slide guitar recalls the very best Clapton ballads. “Angeline” is song-of-the-year material, recorded with Krauss Family members Kate and Ruth with Rick on lead vocals; a sweet concoction punctuated by Ruth’s violin solo. There’s no guitar solo, once again displaying Roberts’ notion that good music, good songs, and guitar solos aren’t mutually exclusive.
Roberts once said that he was in an R&B band in the Twin Cities who played a cover of “Passionate Kisses,” a top-40 country crossover hit. The band was labelled as a country act and received award nominations even though they were actually light-years from country as an ensemble. It prompted him to remark that, “they needed more country songs now.” One of the resulting songs is the deft “Horsing Around,” a guitar showcase that recalls Steve Howe’s solo work in that Chet-Atkins-meets-rock-and-roll style. “I Hear You Are Fast” has a more comical background: a spaghetti-western instrumental that refers to guitarists showing up for jam sessions. There’s not a single fast guitar line and not a single gun gets drawn.
The breezy “Back to Me” really develops nicely and although Roberts’ vocals wouldn’t be rated in the same category as his guitar playing, there is a nice, mellow authenticity that is refreshing. “Anytime” leans toward light instrumental jazz, displaying that side of his musical personality.
Roberts is joined by drummer Chris Sandoval and bassist Ben Shult, who also play in the Bill Roberts Combo (along with keyboardist Joe Wallner). Ace bassist Chris Boeger also makes an appearance on “Angeline.” It was recorded at Dick Mixin’ Recording with brother Steve who was instrumental in formulating and seeing the project through to completion.
The album closes with a salsa-flavored instrumental, “Highlife,” that features Roberts’ longtime companion Sarah Hastings on sax. Again, Roberts’ generosity allows her to shine through most of the song before he unleashes a truly remarkable solo; fast, fluid, uncannily melodic and with perfect phrasing. You’d expect a guitarists’ solo album to go out in a blaze of distorted firepower but Roberts lets the song and the assembled collective do the talking. Always leave ‘em wanting more, and this record does.