THE ALBUM: Billy Price & the Keystone Rhythm Band's "It's Over," on Green Dolphin (1970).
THE SHOW: Friday and Saturday at Columbia Station. Columbia Station.
The blues revival bandwagon is rolling. Everywhere you look, young white bands are reviving blues classics for bigger and bigger audiences.
Billy Price is the best singer of the bunch.
Catfish Hodge and the Downchild Blues Band's Don Walsh may be better songwriters; the Nighthawks and the Fabulous Thunderbirds may have better soloists, but none of them can sing better than Price. Price's voice has that graceful glide that allows a soul singer to overwhelm a note without seeming to try.
The evidence is on Billy Price & the Keystone Rhythm Band's new album, "Is It Over?" As the '60s, rough and bawdy rhythm & blues was changing into smooth-as-silk soul. This album is carefully balanced on the fulcrum point of that transition.
Most of the album's songs were written by early blues pioneers like Jimmy McCracklin and Percy Mayfield, but are delivered in the more polished style of Sam Cooke and Bobby "Blue" Bland.
The songs have the wild humor and rolling "jump" rhythms of the race records that prefigured rock'n'roll. The singing, though, has the lush tone and cruising control of the rock'n'roll records that prefigured soul.
Billy Pollack was just a kid in northern New Jersey when this transition took place. He listened to the New York R&B stations on his tiny transistor radio. Years later at Penn State, he changed his name to Billy Price and started singing the songs he first fell in love with.
He was diverted for two years, 1973 to '75, while he toured and recorded as Roy Buchanan's lead singer. Finally, in 1978, he formed the Keystone Rhythm Band in Pittsburgh, and they became a favorite in D.C. bars.
The highlight of their new album is Jerry McCain's "She's Tough." Price's voice strolls across the walking bass lines and swaying horn riffs with consummate ease. He makes it sound so natural that he works his chuckles into the rhythmic delivery.
Almost as good is "Slip Away," a 5 1/2-minute drama of infidelity. Price reels out a convincing rap to the wavering married woman. On the slow songs, you can almost hear Price get down on one knee and see him dab his eyes.
Like so many blues revival records, however, this one is ultimately limited by its lack of innovation. The only original composition is "Eldorado Cafe," a shuffle/tribute to blues nightclubs. It's important that Price is keeping the blues-singing tradition alive, but he has yet to add anything new to it.