Review of Strong Suspicion
COVER STORY: Aug/Sept 2004
Curtis Salgado ~ Biscuit and Blues ~ San Francisco ~ Aug. 15
Spotlight: Soul Activated
Spotlight: The soul man returns on an album full of blues, rockabilly and even reggae-infused R&B.
The Oregonian Audio Zone
Salgado’s Blues are a reason to smile
Soul Activated Review
Omaha Blues Society
The Blues Authority
Issue No. 73 DECEMBER/January 2002
Curtis Salgado ~ Biscuit and Blues ~ San Francisco ~ Aug. 15
When I walked into Biscuits and Blues to hear Curtis Salgado, I was just off the road and ready for a good show, but if you’re expecting a blow-by-lick account, I refuse.
Five minutes into his show, I knew more about Salgado and his band than any Web site or bio could ever reveal. All you need is a few minutes in a packed club watching him work. For you impatient review freaks who have to know now, Salgado is one of the most down-to-earth, soulful, honest singers ever, and his harmonica work is smoking. His show that night started at excellent before segueing into goose bumps, ecstasy, and finally nirvana. Yes, people, Salgado is great; you’re blowing it if your not hearing his stuff.
As a working musician, I have a hard time actually enjoying any live music show in the same way a non-player does, be it classical or death-metal. Why? Because like all full-timers, I sit and wonder, "What kind of bass amp is that guy using?" or "Why don’t they turn up the vocals?" I envy folks who don’t play or sing – when you see people at a concert having fun, clapping along smiling, closing their eyes, as a player you appreciate that simple, inaccessible pleasure.
I sat there in Biscuits and Blues and watched the crowd, mostly tourists from Boise or Milan or Tokyo, and their faces said it all – Salgado and his band have a comfortable, easygoing vibe, and the man’s unpretentious aura makes people like him immediately. Things to know about Salgado: He’s the guy John Belushi modeled his legendary Jake Blues character after in the Blues Brothers. Since the early `70’s, Salgado has fronted for the Nighthawks, the Robert Cray Band, Roomful of Blues, Ronnie Earl, Otis Grand, and others. These days he likes to be called a soul singer, and he’s right.
Salgado surrounds himself with great young players; younger cats don’t bitch as much, they split hotel rooms with no complaint, and they run on empty for a lot longer than grumpy old silverbacks. But also, young players give a bandleader everything they’ve got, and the astute mentor knows how to trade his experience for their exuberance. This is Salgado’s hallmark.
Jesse Young is a gifted young guitar player who keeps up with Salgado: blazing riffs at every turn, amazing fingerboard work, great sounds, the whole package. Bassist Tracy Arrington is a kind of low-end man you want around; he’s not too flashy, but his intelligent bass riffs add texture. That’ll be H-Bomb Ferguson on the drum kit, and his technique belies a rockabilly slant; he’s totally on the money rhythmically while keeping the loose feel that soul music requires. Pianist D.K. Stewart has a few gray hairs, but not nearly as many as his potent chops would indicate.
There’s really just one song from Salgado’s show I want to mention. In it, he sings, "I just want to tell you all how much I love you." The place was floored. It was the most emotional outpouring from a singer I’ve seen in many years. Folks cried – hell, I cried. That’s the kind of thing you need from a soul man, and we all went home with Salgado in our hearts and minds. That’s a soul.
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This aptly titled 11-song CD is a tour de force that showcases Salgado’s range and power as a vocalist. Whether it’s the Stax-inspired cover of Jimmy Cliff’s "The Harder They Come," The hard-nosed blues of "Old Enough To Know Better," the beautifully measured R&B of Salgado’s original tune "Summertime Life," or the phat sound of "More Love Less Attitude"-punctuated by the fiery work of the Memphis Horns and guitarist Jimmie Vaughn-Salgado throws down weighty, soulful vocals that are as much a product of his mature interpretive gift as they are a tribute to the muscular quality of his voice. It’s worth noting that Salgado and producer Marlon McClain were hip enough in their choice of material, studio players, and guest musicians to give this project the chance to be exceptional. Plug in Salgado’s vocal and harmonica chops, and we’re talking a major artistic statement.
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Issue No. 65 March 2001
The soul man returns on an album
full of blues, rockabilly and even
With a multilayered approach that combines the best of traditional R&B, rootsy rock ‘n roll and plucky blue-eyed soul, Curtis Salgado’s fifth solo disc pushes all the right buttons. His years of experience in various blues-based soul bands – he’s apprenticed with Robert Cray, Roomful of Blues and Steve Miller (predominantly as harp player) – pays off on Soul Activated, the follow-up to 1999’s exhilerating Wiggle Outta This.
Mixing originals with smartly rearranged covers, Salgado remains steeped in the Hi Studio sound intimately associated with Al Green, Syl Johnson and Ann Peebles. Rather than simply imitate it, though he manipulates the thumping tomtoms, subtle trumpet and sax (courtesy of the Memphis Horns) and throbbing B-3 to bolster his gutsy pipes and smother the proceedings in swampy soul-rock. While his harp playing is MIA for the majority of the album – he tears it up only on the frantic instrumental "Lip Whippin" – Salgado proves a vocalist of exceptional nuance and substance. While it’s arguable whether the world needs another version of Daryl Hall’s "Everytime You Go Away," Salgado digs in and delivers an interpretation full of vulnerable strength. Better still is his rollicking duet with Lou Ann Barton on the rockabilly chestnut "Hip Hip Baby."
Salgado is less successful when he heads for Delbert McClinton-style bluesrock on the album’s bookends, "Old Enough to Know Better" and "More Love Less Attitude." Though there’s nothing shoddy about his approach, the singer seems slightly uncomfortable in his role. Certainly his funky reading of Leon Russell by way of Freddie King’s "I’d Rather Be Blind," where dueling guitars, gospel backing vocals and a snazzy stop-start rhythm add muscle and conviction, is a more convincing example of his assets. The singer interprets Jimmy Cliff’s reggae classic "The Harder They Come" as if it were a Stax song all along, and, interestingly, goes the Rasta route on his own "Funny Man" – the disc’s most infectiously jaunty track – with electrifying results. On this thoroughly invigorating album, Curtis Salgado again proves he’s the most soul-activated singer – of any color – working today.
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AudioZone The Oregonian A&E
Friday, January 5, 2001
Salgado’s Blues are a reason to smile
The singer/songwriter returns to his roots, and the results are smokin’
By Don Campbell
SPECIAL TO THE OREGONIAN
Concern over the recorded efforts of Northwest soul/blues singer Curtis Salgado stemmed from remembering his early days in Eugene with a blistering band called the Nighthawks, and a long-out-of-print, eponymous EP.
That four-song project, in all it’s lo-fi glory, somehow perfectly captured this six-piece powerhouse, led by the charismatic Salgado on vocals and harmonica. The Nighthawks spent endless hours honing their blues craft, and it showed in countless memorable nights in smoky clubs all over Oregon, Washington and California in the late ‘70s.
Salgado, of course, went on to do stints with Robert Cray, Roomful of Blues, even a brief fling with Santana. He’s put out four projects under his own name with various labels. None accurately captured his vitality, his breadth as a singer and bandleader. None cemented his place in contemporary blues.
That’s about to change with "Soul Activated," his second record for the Shanachie record label. Salgado’s forays into pop music haven’t been without some success. It’s just that he’s a gifted and soulful singer of hard driving blues, and this is what we love to hear him sing.
And he nails it with this outing. As Salgado says, "My definition is that if a song is sincere and you believe it, that’s soul. To me Pavarotti is as much a soul singer as Otis Redding. Merle Haggard and Hank Williams are soul singers as much as Sam Cooke was." Maybe it’s just that this CD is so achingly believable. Salgado uses all the tools in his belt: a rich and emotional voice, unparalleled harmonica chops and an unerring nose for great material.
Salgado penned four of the 11 songs. "Summertime Life" is redolent of a Sly and the Family Stone groove. "I Sleep With the TV On" is sweet soul. "Lip Whippin’ " could have been a Chess Records hit for Little Walter back in the ‘40s. It’s a stop-time shuffle that struts Salgado’s scorching harp, also featuring a ferocious guitar solo by Portlander and former bandmate Lloyd Jones. If it’s true that funk music is like voodoo and will drive you insane, then the New Orleans-funky "Funny Man" will have every listener straitjacketed and put away.
Salgado has deftly picked songs that congeal into a solid groove. He absolutely tears up the Leon Russell/Freddie King tune "I’d Rather Be Blind." Lou Ann Barton adds raunch to "Hip Hip Baby," alone with famed Lone Star guitarslinger Jimmy Vaughn. The blue-eyed soul of Hall & Oates is tackled with conviction on "Everytime You Go Away." Jimmie Cliff’s classic "The Harder They Come" shifts from a reggae lilt to a rocker. A song that appeared on Salgado’s first solo outing, "More Love Less Attitude," is resurrected with severe grit and fire. Listen for the spunk of pianist D.K. Stewart.
Salgado found the budget to use the incomparable Memphis Horns throughout this project. But his talented road band is the spine. Guitar duties are split between a couple of relative youngsters, Jesse Young and John Wedemeyer. Stewart, Salgado’s longtime cohort, couldn’t add more schooled and muscular piano playing even if he had more fingers. Stickman Rheinhardt Melz anchors the rhythm section, with both Tracy Arrington and the former Portlander Nate Phillips shoring up bass.
The sounds are authentic – Hammond organ, brittle electric guitar, fat horn lines and stride piano. The performances, especially Salgado’s vocals – which have never filled the air with so much fire, conviction and strength – are all world class.
This is the album we’ve been waiting for.
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Southland Blues March 2001
One of the best releases it’s been my pleasure to hear so far in the young new year has been Soul Activated (Shanachie) the latest release from the monstrously talented Curtis Salgado.
An eclectic blend of styles, classis R&B, funk, rockabilly and of course Memphis soul can be found throughout the eleven tunes, four of which are drawn from the pen of Curtis himself with the instrumental harmonica blowout ‘Lip Whippin’ rising to the top as the cream of the crop with guitarist Lloyd Jones adding some red hot licks for good measure. A rambunctiuos version of Leon Russell’s "I’d Rather Be Blind" finds Salgado delving into funky honky tonk territory as does the rockabilly duet with LouAnn Barton "Hip Hip Baby" that also features the guitar magic of Jimmy Vaughn who contributes to two other numbers as well.
A pair of tunes undergoing a role reversal are the treatment of Jimmy Cliffs "The Harder They Come" that will blow your socks off with it’s Memphis rooted Stax/Hi-Records sound, while on the flip side of things Salgado’s own "Funny Man" reeks of reggae overtones. Blue eyed soul is the bill of fair with a reworking of Hall & Oates’ "Everytime You Go" which puts the original to shame by leaps and bounds. Joining in for three numbers are the impeccable sounds of The Memphis Horns adding their signature velvety smoothness as only they can.
If there is a down side to this album it would have to be that other than "Lip Whippin" and one other piece, the lack of harp work from Salgado is quite noticeable. Why this soulful and energetic singer and harp player has not exploded like a super nova on the blues scene I find hard to fanthom, but perhaps Soul Activated will be the Album that turns the trick.
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Omaha Blues Society
Omaha Blues Society BLUES NOTES January 2001
SOUL ACTIVATED -- CD PREVIEW
"My definition is that if a song is sincere and you believe it, that’s soul," Curtis Salgado observed in the record company notes that accompany his new CD.
SOUL ACTIVATED is due in stores January 9th. "Of course, the contents of a song are going to shape what you think about it," Salgado continued, "but if it’s BELIEVABLE, there you go! To me Pavarotti is as much a soul signer as Otis Redding. Merle Haggard and Hank Williams are soul singers as much as Sam Cooke was. "Soul is about heart and about belief. Music is an offering, and if you accept that offering, there’s a connection there and that’s what soul is all about." SOUL ACTIVATED is Curtis Salgado’s second disc for Shanachie Records and his fourth solo effort. Folks who’ve already experienced the Curtis Salgado band live know that the title SOUL ACTIVATED is absolutely fitting for Salgado and his music. In a phone interview conducted after the rough mixes for SOUL ACTIVATED were completed, Salgado talked about some of the tracks and how he developed them. One guest artist is Jimmie Vaughan, who plays on OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER, and also on a re-do of Salgado’s early 1990s Pacific Northwest hit MORE LOVE, LESS ATTITUDE. Vaughan also guests on HIP HIP BABY which features Lou Ann Barton on vocals with Salgado. "I’m as big a Jimmie Vaughan fan as I am a Stevie Ray Vaughan fan," says Salgado. Back in the late 1970s it was the Robert Cray Band with Curtis Salgado on vocals that toured the West Coast for several weeks with a young Stevie Ray Vaughan and his Texas band (including Miss Lou Ann Barton on vocals), so Salgado had plenty of opportunities to hear Stevie up close. In the 1980s, while Salgado sang with Roomful of Blues, the band shared many bills with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. "And I know EVERYBODY is kinda like, okay, STEVIE VAUGHAN, but they have NO IDEA. I mean, you know," Salgado continued very quietly, "Those two boys, they just have a certain vibe about ‘em...and I wanted Jimmie Vaughan on my record because I knew he was gonna bring a certain sauce to it. The guy is brilliant, he’s funky and I’ve never seen anybody play rhythm like that guy. He’s probably forgotten more guitar than a lot of guitar players know. I asked him, I said ‘Jimmie, your style’s entirely different, you know, you’ve changed it," said Salgado. "And he goes, ‘Yeah man, I kinda had to.’ He goes,’When you’re playing with Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy and Robert Cray and those guys, I had to change it, otherwise I’d just be more of the same.’ And he’s right. So the guy is brilliant, he’s funky...His new style to me is kinda Guitar Slim meets Hank Ballard. He’s playing pick-your-shot-style, pick with your finger, play with a capo. He’s very understated. He knows just what to play, and he knows just how to support somebody, his rhythm work is just to a T." Austin songbird Lou Ann Barton joins Salgado on vocals with Vaughan on guitar for the revved-up, little-known rockabilly song, HIP HIP BABY, a number Barton sang with Stevie’s band some twenty years ago. SOUL ACTIVATED, which also features guest work from the Memphis Horns on several tracks, was produced by Salgado’s friend, mentor and long-time producer Marlon McClain. McClain is a veteran of the ground-breaking jazz band Pleasure, a band that created "the first jazz-funk fusion tune" with their mid-80s hit "GLIDE." McClain has produced all of Salgado’s recordings. "You need to have somebody be your ears for you who you can trust, who can hear maybe somethin’ you can’t that takes your music to the next level. Well Marlon, he’ll hear something that I don’t hear at all. He’ll have an idea or try somethin’ that I don’t hear at all. Or an angle, or ‘try this instrument,’ or ‘let’s use this tone,’ see what I’m sayin’? It can be very complicated. But he just sees things differently and so his angle will TURN my music. And if I don’t like it, we don’t do it. But he’ll usually find somethin’ that I agree with and take it to another level...I suggest to anybody that you HAVE to have an outside source." One of the delightfully unexpected cuts on the album is Salgado’s version of the old Hall and Oates tune EVERYTIME YOU GO AWAY. "Yeah, well, we didn’t know it was gonna turn out like that," confided Salgado. "I’m sittin’ on the floor and Marlon is playing the song and then he turned off the tape and he played guitar and I started singing it and it was, just like, basically, DO IT YOUR OWN WAY. And you could hear that it could be kind of like a Memphis-Al Green...just like, with an organ and whatever. Add a little bit of this and get rid of that really 80s slick sound, and let’s go for a raw, emotionally raw vibe and make it more organic, with Hammond B-3 and guitar. And sing it soul -- like, what if Otis Redding did the tune? That was our approach, but we had no idea it was gonna sound like that, and it was kind of a nice surprise," he chuckled, "Oh, this is workin’ out great! BOOM! It turned everything around, soon as we added the horns and the organ." The balance of the CD includes several knock-out Salgado originals, including my personal favorite, I SLEEP WITH THE TV ON, which Salgado co-wrote with Dennis Walker, a long-time producer/songwriter with Robert Cray (including most of the STRONG PERSUADER hits). Salgado credits keyboard man D.K. Stewart with adding a keyboard bridge that took this tune "to the next level." Then there’s SUMMERTIME LIFE -- a smooth summertime funk groove and a track Salgado penned with bassist Nathaniel Phillips, another former member of the band Pleasure and also a long-time musical collaborator. The full-out instrumental harmonica tribute to Little Walter, LIP WHIPPIN’, also features another Pacific Northwest local favorite, guitarist Lloyd Jones. "That’s just us," said Salgado, "I thought of the head and said ‘Let’s go like this, and then you play here,’ and whatever." The song is a fierce, show-stopping butt-rocker, as raw and tight as anything you’ll hear Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds do. Salgado also hits the money on tracks like Leon Russell’s I’D RATHER BE BLIND (previously recorded by Freddie King). An original called PORTABLE MAN, written by one of Salgado’s friends, Delmark Goldfarb, is a particular favorite of Salgado’s. In fact, the more you listen to the lyrics, the more you hear how Goldfarb’s words -- originally written to portray the character of a homeless man, also apply to the life of a traveling musician. In fact, when Salgado recites his favorite part of the lyrics, he states the title line with an obvious connection and pride, "I’m a PORTABLE MAN -- I just do the best that I can." Fans who were introduced to Salgado via WIGGLE OUTTA THIS will find more variety and many more of Salgado’s musical influences at play here. Musicologist and vocalist extraordinaire -- Salgado makes music that combines shining musicianship with heart-pounding emotional authenticity. Salgado’s music is SOUL ACTIVATED, and then some. You can sample several tracks at www.shanachie.com. Or get on out to your local record store and check out the whole disc. Curtis Salgado sings exactly like no one else -- which is what makes his music such an astonishing and joyous discovery for listeners who love the music as much as Salgado does.