TOMMY LEPSON BAND
"Live at Sweet Caroline's"
Recorded long before Hurricane Katrina tore up the Gulf Coast, "Guitar Gumbo" is Tom Principato's love song to Louisiana, a multi-track celebration of its culture, mystique and allure.
As always, Principato's Fender-charged fretwork generates lots of Stratocaster sparks and Telecaster twang, along with some fiendishly syncopated runs on Professor Longhair's "Hey Now Baby" and other tracks. The self-penned instrumental "Return of the Voodoo King" quickly stands out on the album, as does "Louisiana (Been Callin' Me)," which features Tommy Lepson on Hammond organ and the Nighthawks' Mark Wenner on harmonica. Other guests occasionally join Principato, bassist John Perry and drummer Joe Wells, including a few local horn players and pianist Kevin McKendree, best known for his work with soul man Delbert McClinton. As the album's title suggests, though, not all the tunes evoke Louisiana sounds. "Tango'd Up in the Blues," one of Principato's most sensuous and atmospheric compositions, points even farther south, and David Kitchen's "If Love Is Blind" introduces a roots-rock, boogie-powered diversion. Not to be overlooked is "Tipsy," the album's coda, which reverberates with Chuck Berry-flavored bends and double stops.
Save for one track, "Live at Sweet Caroline's" captures the Lepson band in concert at the Winchester, Va., club, performing original songs as well as tunes written by (or associated) with Willie Dixon, the Neville Brothers and New Orleans R&B singer King Floyd. Like Floyd, Lepson may never get the recognition due him, but he's in customary form here, singing with soulful fervor and sustaining one churning or insinuating organ groove after another. Guitarist John Bell's eloquent solo on "Catch Me When I Fall" and drummer El Torro Gamble's funk attack on "AM 53" help heighten the tension and grease the skids.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Wednesday at Blues Alley. Principato and the Tommy Lepson Band also appear Thursday at the State Theatre as part of a Katrina hurricane relief concert.