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CD Review - John Scofield 'Piety Street'

John Scofield's latest blues CD is heavenly.
John Scofield's latest blues CD is heavenly. (By Nick Suttle © 2007 Scobiz Inc.)
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Friday, April 17, 2009

JOHN SCOFIELD "Piety Street" Emarcy/Decca

A HOLY BLUES ALBUM from jazz vet John Scofield? "Piety Street," a tambourine-rattling mix of spiritual anthems old and new, certainly qualifies, with Scofield's guitar often leading the choir.

Not that the performances are tradition-bound. Playing songs associated with Mahalia Jackson ("Just a Little While to Stay Here"), Dorothy Love Coates ("That's Enough"), the Rev. James Cleveland ("Something's Got a Hold on Me") and other gospel luminaries, along with a pair of original tunes, Scofield and a band well-versed in New Orleans grooves dish out plenty of Southern funk. Also apparent are reggae and country-music influences -- indeed, Hank Williams's "The Angel of Death" makes the cut -- but from the outset there's a whole lot of testifying going on.

"That's Enough" and "Motherless Child," the album's opening tracks, make it clear that Scofield remains an unabashed disciple of B.B. King. On other cuts, however, Scofield's phrasing is slippery or wah-wah-driven, in sync with Meters bassist George Porter Jr.'s signature pulse and the soulful contributions of keyboardist-vocalist Jon Cleary and singer John Boutte.

Occasionally "Piety Street" brings to mind "That's What I Say," the Ray Charles tribute that Scofield released four years ago. Only this time around the songs were designed to serve a higher purpose. No doubt Charles himself would approve.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Wednesday at the State Theatre (703-237-0300, http://www.thestatetheatre.com). Show starts at 8 p.m.


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