Chicago-based Delmark Records have always been known as a blues label with a strong side of jazz. Of late, though, the hard-core blues they’ve been recording has been liberally sprinkled with Northern Soul.
Been There Done That is an apt title for the label debut (there have been a handful of independent productions) of Linsey Alexander, released 70 years(!) after the guitarist’s birth in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Following a move to Memphis at the age of twelve, young Alexander, a budding guitarist, found himself immersed in blues, country, and rock ‘n’ roll. Subsequently migrating to Chicago while the West-side scene was still vibrant, Alexander eventually came to share stages with the likes of Bobby Rush, Little Milton, B. B. King, and Buddy Guy. But he’s always been focused on his own music and his own sound.
Been There Done That is an all-original collection, with the exception of one cover – a tune by Alexander’s old friend, the late Willie Kent. It’s an appealing mix of shuffles and shimmery soul, with Alexander’s smoothly stinging guitar supported by a top-notch band that includes Roosevelt Purifoy on keys (a virtual guarantee of soulful sounds), drummer James Wilson, a fine horn section, and exceptional harmonica from guest Billy Branch on three tunes.
The sound is varied indeed, but it’s all firmly rooted in the blues. Opener “Raffle Ticket,” with its squalling harp, sets a relaxed pace, but the title track borrows the melodic structure from an old Eddie Floyd/Al Green hit. “I Had A Dream” is hard-core blues, allowing Alexander to stretch out with some fine fretwork, as is “My Mama Gave Me The Blues,” a more serious song than its title might suggest, with more exceptional harmonica from Branch. But fare like “Bad Man,” “Going Back To My Old Time Used To Be” and “Big Woman” ride slippier, slinkier grooves. “Going Up On The Roof” is a minor-key, Otis Rush-style masterpiece, while the concluding track, “Saving Robert Johnson,” an imaginative fantasy that literally sees Alexander setting out to retrieve Johnson’s soul, is a funked-up rave that would make Parliament proud.
The disc was cut live, with only a couple of dubbed guitar parts, yet the band is impeccably tight, and Alexander is absolutely on fire throughout, his gruff voice at times not far from Kent’s bluesy growl yet supple enough to handle more melodic, soulful material.
As the accompanying press states, this one truly is “all killer, no filler.” There’s not a weak tune in the bunch, performances are inspired, and Alexander plays like a man who’s been waiting for this opportunity all his life – the hunger’s still very much there, but it’s tempered by years of hard-won experience. Excellent stuff!