Blues albums by rock stars tend to go one of two ways. Some can be very good. Pat Benatar’s 1991 effort, True Love, is a delight. Then again, she was smart enough to hire Roomful of Blues as her backing band. Some can be disappointing, Vivian Campbell’s searing lead guitar has lifted the likes of Dio, Whitesnake and Def Leppard to another level, but his 2005 collection of blues covers, Two Sides Of If, merely re-enforced the subtlety, dynamism and simple emotional power of the original recordings.
Myles Goodwyn is perhaps best known as the guitarist, lead singer and primary songwriter of Canadian rock band, April Wine. And Friends Of The Blues is Goodwyn’s sophomore solo release, following his eponymous effort in 1988. It is described as a collection of blues songs that Goodwyn has written over the years that never made it onto an April Wine album.
The core band on the album is Goodwyn on lead vocals, guitars and keyboards, together with Mike Carrol and Blair Mackay on drums; and Richard Fallus, Alex Fraser, Russal Jackson and Bruce Dixon on bass. Goodwyn also has different guests appearing on every song, with a veritable smorgasbord of guitarists, including Shaun Verreault, Amos Garrett, Steve Segal, Frank Marino, Garret Mason, David Wilcox, Jack de Keyser and Rick Derringer. Dewey Reeds adds harmonica to “You Never Got The Best Of Me”. Sonja Ball and Emily Lamarche add backing vocals and Bill Stevenson and Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne add keys to three songs. (Some of the musicians’ names appear to be pseudonyms or perhaps in-jokes.)
The album kicks off with the upbeat blues-rock of “Hate To See You Go (But I Love To Watch You Walk Away)”, with tasty sax from Eric Khayat and wicked slide guitar from Verreault. Goodwyn’s husky voice works well on the material, which contains as much rock as blues.
Indeed, although this is pitched as a blues album, it’s probably more accurately described as a rock album with a lot of blues in it. The playing throughout the album is top class from all concerned (special mention must go to Steve Segal’s slide guitar on “Brand New Cardboard Belt”) but the rhythm section leans more towards the “rock” end of the spectrum, rather than the “roll” end. This is blues played through the prism of ZZ Top and Gary Moore.
“Hate To See You Go…” is indicative of Goodwyn’s tongue-in-cheek approach to the lyrics of many of his songs, such as the “Blue Monday”-esque “Tell Me Where I’ve Been (So I Don’t Go There Anymore)” and the slow blues of “I’ll Hate You (Till Death Do Us Part)”. The aim is clearly humorous, and that works the majority of the time, although it does feel slightly uncomfortable listening to a very wealthy rock star singing “I ain’t gonna bath in the kitchen no more. When I get rich and I ain’t poor, I ain’t going back to the kitchen no more.”
Goodwyn wrote 11 of the songs on the album (the sole cover being Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So”) and smartly avoids any clichéd standard 12 bar structures. The slower tracks, particularly “Weeping Willow Tree Blues” and “You Never Got The Best Of Me”, are especially effective.
As one might expect, And Friends Of The Blues features immaculate production and a smooth consistency throughout. If you’re looking for the blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins, you won’t find it here. You will however find an enjoyable collection of well-structured and well-played bluesy rock songs with some clever lyrics that will leave a smile on your face.