Versatile and virtuosic blues guitarist, Delmark Records’ Dave Specter just may have made his strongest, most expressive album in his 35-year career. Proving that it’s never too late, he makes his debut as a vocalist here on Blues from the Inside Out, a date that also features the renowned Jorma Kaukonen who plays on two of Specter’s originals, one a co-write. In addition, fellow Chicago keyboardist and vocalist Brother John Kattke joins on this mix of blues, soul, funk, gospel and jazz, adding his vocal to four tracks. Three of Specter’s tunes address hope, inspiration, and finding strength during these troubled times when even a U.S. President gets booed at a World Series game. Specter has own vocal version of booing POTUS 45 in “How Low Can One Man Go?”
Specter says his hopeful ballad “March Through The Darkness” (sung by Kattke) was influenced by fellow Chicago artist Mavis Staples. Specter says, “There’s a lot of darkness that we are living though and we’ve got to get through it. It’s not what this country stands for regardless of your political party. I like the idea of going high when they go low, but sometimes when a bully confronts you, you gotta stand up and speak out.”
The album is broader than just political songs, however. Specter resurrects the Meters/Neville Brothers sound on the instrumental “Sanctifunkious.” The instrumental jazz-tinged “Minor Shout” features fine soloing from Specter and great interplay with Kattke’s organ. Specter sings on the title track, which gives the blues a positive force and, on the boogie “Asking for a Friend.” Kaukonen plays on “How Long Can One Man Go,” a defiant call and response in the vein of John Lee Hooker rebuke of Trump. Interestingly, Robert Cray addressed the same issue with a song of a similar name “Just How Low.” About his singing, Specter offers, “I’ve worked my entire career on the art of backing up singers and writing/playing instrumentals and never felt a desire to sing until recently….I’m getting more inspired to write more songs that I sing, as I’m honestly more comfortable singing my own words than somebody else’s I’m looking forward to seeing where the road takes me.’’
In addition to a strong core of Chicago musicians in the rhythm section, Specter recruited the three-piece Chicago-based Liquid Soul horns and Latin percussionist Ruben Alvarez, each of whom play on three tracks. Background vocals come from soul men Tad Robinson and Devin Thompson. “The Blue Ain’t Nothin’” has lyrics from Kaukonen and vocals from Kattke while the swampy instrumental “Ponchatonia Way” features Kattke’s piano chops. Kattke sings on the bouncy, fun-infused “Opposites Attract.” Chicago’s Sarah Marie Young takes the vocal lead on the gospel-blues ballad “Wave’s Gonna Come,” co-written with acoustic guitarist Bill Bricta, with Specter’s stinging guitar spurring Young on. The album has a nice pace and flow to it, never dragging, often with instrumentals alternating with the vocals. Specter’s playing has the right balance of emotion and precision as the band finds the groove consistently, with “Soul Drop” and the closer “String Chillin,’ a mellow soul-jazz tune, two of the finer examples.
Yes, it’s often said that music is a healing force. Specter and crew take that to heart.