Jimmy Herring: Subject to Change without Notice (2012)
It's been four years since Lifeboat (Abstract Logix, 2008), guitarist Jimmy Herring's outstanding debut as leader. Herring hasn't been idle though, recording and touring with Widespread Panic. And given that it took several decades to make the first CD, four years isn't so long to wait for another-especially one this good. The emphasis is emphatically on melody, with tunes inspired, according to the guitarist, by the human voice. Herring's six-stringed voice is as sweet as a silver-tongued lark, but there's also muscle in its collective playing. Less compositionally focused, perhaps, than Lifeboat, the mixture of blues, bluegrass, and what Herring describes good-naturedly as redneck jazz, has a wonderfully natural flow and instant melodic appeal.
Veteran Herring collaborator, drummer Jeff Sipe, Cameroonian bassist Etienne M'Bappe and fiddle player Nicky Sanders, of the Steep Canyon Rangers, drive the double-time "Red Wing Special." Herring plays Django Reinhardt to Sanders' Stephane Grappelli on a rollicking gypsy fling that would make a wonderful soundtrack to a Woody Allen New York caper. Keyboardist Matt Slocum is a subtle presence on Hammond B-3 on this track and the Southern-flavored, melodic-rock of "Kaleidoscope Carousel." Herring's closing solo has the rasping, almost harmonica-like quality of blues legends James Cotton or Sonny Boy Williamson. The slow blues of "Aberdeen" features great Hammond B-3 work from Ike Stubblefield and favors melodic development over improvisation, though Herring's soloing is so melodic that there's barely a dividing line.
Herring's striking take on George Harrison's India-inspired "Within You, Without You" captures the original flavor with a sitar-ish drone. Son, Carter Herring on cello and Slocum's keys provide harmonic depth and melodic counterpoint. More down-home is a grooving version of Hammond B-3 great Jimmy McGriff's "Miss Poopie," which sees Herring unleash one of his most uninhibited improvisations. Slocum, as might be expected, weighs in with an equally exuberant solo. The other non-original is guitarist John McLaughlin's "Hope," from the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Birds of Fire (Columbia, 1973). Saxophonist Bill Evans and Herring release searing solos, while cello and John Keane's pedal steel guitar add diverse textures. Keane also deserves mention as the session's producer, as the sound throughout is fantastic.
Keane's pedal steel also colors the pretty, yet powerful acoustic number "Emerald Garden," which showcases Herring's most sensuous playing. "Twelve Keys"-the most straight-ahead number here-features fine, extended improvising, particularly from Slocum on Hammond B-3. Herring trades joyous country-blues lines with banjoist Bela Fleck on the lighthearted though absorbing romp, "Curfew." The guitarist teams up with another longstanding collaborator, bassist Neal Fountain, and drummer Tyler Greenwell, on the vibrant blues-funk of "Bilgewater-a rousing sendoff altogether.
The simplicity of these compositions allows plenty of space for the individual musicians to stamp their personalities on music that celebrates melody and interplay. Subject to Change Without Notice, whilst stylistically diverse, could be classified as a blues album, as the blues lies at the core of the playing. Herring, for his part, has never sounded more relaxed, nor in finer tune, on what is a highly enjoyable recording.
Track Listing: Red Wing Special; Kaleidoscope Carousel; Aberdeen; Within You, Without You; Miss Poopie; emerald Garden; 12 Keys; Hope; Curfew; Bilgewater Blues.
Personnel: Jimmy Herring: electric guitar (1-5, 7-10), acoustic guitar (6); Etienne M'Bappe: electric bass (1-3, 6-8); Tyler Greenwell: drums (1, 10); Nicky Sanders: fiddle (1); Jeff Sipe: drums (1, 3-9); Matt Slocum: keyboards (1-2, 4-8, 10); Ike Stubblefield: Hammond B3, (3, 5); Neal Fountain: electric bass, (4-5, 9-10); Carter Herring: cello (4, 8); John Keane: pedal steel guitar (6, 8); Bill Evans: saxophone (8); Bela Fleck: banjo (9).