"That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles"
"Below the Fold"
When jazz guitarist John Scofield performed at the Barns at Wolf Trap earlier this year, he gave the audience a preview of his then yet-to-be released Ray Charles tribute CD by playing a lean and soulful version of "You Don't Know Me." Now that the album is out, the concert teaser seems a little misleading.
"That's What I Say" is soulful, all right, but the settings are seldom stripped to the essentials. Joining Scofield are several guest artists, including Dr. John, Aaron Neville, John Mayer, Mavis Staples, Warren Haynes and David "Fathead" Newman. Add organ and more horns to the mix, and you have a full-blooded salute.
The all-star lineup clearly echoes "Genius Loves Company," Charles's posthumously released, multiple Grammy-winning smash, but the performances are distinctive enough to render comparisons moot. None of the invitees is more welcome than Staples, who turns in an emotionally powerful rendition of "I Can't Stop Loving You." And none of the instrumental touches is more evocative than the tones Newman, Charles's longtime sideman, coaxes from his tenor on "Hit the Road Jack."
Neville turns up on the recorded version of "You Don't Know Me," the album's melancholy highlight, and Haynes is in particularly good form when singing (and trading licks with the quick-witted Scofield) on "Night Time Is the Right Time." Scofield obviously spent a lot of time arranging the tunes, and his efforts almost always pay off, whether he's surrounded by company on "What'd I Say" or playing a solo acoustic guitar version of "Georgia on My Mind."
Otis Taylor, the widely acclaimed bluesman, certainly won't have his reputation tarnished by "Below the Fold." His seventh CD opens with the title track, a surging string-band evocation of the '60s civil rights movement in the South. Emotions run deep throughout the album, along with hypnotic rhythms and an Appalachia-like array of sharp-edged tones, produced by banjo, slide guitar, mandolin and fiddle. Clearly more concerned with social issues than radio airplay, Taylor continues to write passionately about matters that weigh heavy on his mind and soul.
-- Mike Joyce
Both appearing Tuesday at the State Theatre; Otis Taylor also appearing Wednesday at Funk Box in Baltimore.