Anyone who’s spent any time listening to the blues knows it comes in many shades. In addition to regional variations – Delta, Piedmont, Texas, and West-Coast Swing are all instantly identifiable styles - the blues can be as simple as a solo guitar and voice, or as big and brassy as a full orchestra. Technical definitions aside, it all comes down to feel...
Quintus McCormick, raised in Detroit and now based in Chicago, refuses to confine himself to twelve-bar convention, and his music is blue by feel as much as anything else. That’s not to say there aren’t several tunes on Put It On Me, his sophomore outing on venerable Delmark Records, that are unmistakably blues in both form and delivery. But McCormick is as much a soul artist who feels blue as he is a blues man.
Growing up on equal parts blues, motown, rock, and soul, McCormick knocked around the music scene for years, including a stint with James Cotton, before a bit of a ‘misunderstanding’ led to a brief period of incarceration. He released his first widely-distributed CD at the age of 51 – the critically acclaimed Hey Jodie, also on Delmark – and here returns with an all-original follow up that successfully merges his diverse influences into a coherent and distinctive sound.
Guest Billy Branch’s squalling harmonica helps anchor the leadoff track, "You Just Using Me," a fairly typical shuffle. But the brassy horns and rubbery bass of "Talk Baby" take the tune well into slippery funk territory. McClintock’s snarling, angular guitar, is featured on "How Quick We Forget," but it’s contrasted by his buttery-smooth voice, and "Same Old Feeling" is pure bedroom soul, slinky and seductive.
And so it goes, McCormick alternating between the alley and the bedroom for the remainder of the disc’s fourteen tracks, with Quintus in a confessional mood on closer "Hallelujah," with an uncredited gospel choir helping out. But for all the variety on display, McCormick is strong enough as both guitarist and vocalist to hold it all together – his soul is gritty enough and his blues smooth enough that the collection flows nicely with no jarring disconnection between the two disparate styles.
The band is fine, and the production never gets too slick or fussy – the sound is that of a working outfit, with the Chicago Horns adding brassy punch on a handful and Branch delivery typically brilliant harmonica on three tracks. None of McCormick’s compositions are destined for classic status, but on the whole to songs are reasonably sturdy and arrangements appropriate, with superb horn charts and excellent keys courtesy of John Chorney.
This one points more often to the bedroom than the barroom, but while hard-core blues fans might want a bit more bite, it’s a thoroughly satisfying collection on its own terms. McCormick has a strong voice and a distinct musical vision, and Put It On Me is an accomplished and genuinely enjoyable recording.