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July 2018

Billy Price

Billy Price

I believe that the first time I heard the term "blue-eyed soul" was to describe the music of Billy Price. Yes, I know he wasn't the first artist to acquire this label, but I was a relative novice to the blues scene back in the 1970s when the Pittsburgh-based Price would regularly roll into the Washington, D.C. area for gigs. 40 years later, I'm still grooving to this man's fantastic soulful vocals and perpetually tight backing bands. Price is back with Reckoning (Vizztone), co-produced with Kid Andersen at the burgeoning Greaseland studios in in San Jose, California. Needless to say, Reckoning continues Price's long history of issuing high-quality albums of soulful blues.

No, "39 Steps" has nothing to do with the old Alfred Hitchcock classic flick, but instead is a mid-tempo blues shuffle as he describes the steps he needs to take to get to his freedom." .... 39 steps, I'm gone, I'm gone, 39 steps I'm long gone, 39 steps, I'm gone baby, you ain't never gonna see me no more ..." A great song to start off this fine album.

"Dreamer" adds an orchestra providing strings for a unique twist, while Andersen adds an international twist with his Coral sitar and Courtney Knott and Lisa Leuschner Andersen provide a gospel feeling with backing vocals. A lot of divergent sounds here to frame Price's pleading soulful vocals. Taking the title cut to church is the preaching of Marcel Smith and impassioned gospel vocals of Sons of the Soul Revivers before tasteful trumpet playing by Konstantins Jemeljanovs comes in to accompany Price singing about the fact that "... there's going to be a reckoning, oh I know there's going to be a reckoning, and it's coming for you ..." Just so much diversity on this cut, kind of what we are hearing on every cut.

"No Time" is an urgent J.J. Cale blues cover that is highlighted midway through by a killer sax solo from Johnny Bones. The very beautiful soul ballad "I Love You More Than Words Can Say," written by Eddie Floyd & Booker T. Jones and featuring gospel-ish piano from Jim Pugh and more solid horn work from Bones. Price's voice soars through the octaves on this one! The combo of Andersen's nice organ playing and Pugh's piano accompaniment, along with trumpet from Jemeljanovs take Johnny Rawls' soulful number "I Keep Holding On" to another level. A lot of sound here and it all comes together nicely.

Price slows down the tempo and sings in a quieter voice on the soulful original "One and One." Quite frankly, I'd love to take this song back in time to have Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sing it, but I'll just be happy hearing Price's rendition of his own tune. "... one and one together is greater than two alone. two together feels so much better, baby, than one and one on their own ..." Bones is again outstanding on the saxes while Knott and Leuschner Andersen provide outstanding background vocals.

The Denise LaSalle song "Get Your Lie Straight" gives Price the chance to lecture his woman on being sure to tell him the truth, or at least "...if you're going to tell a lie you better make it good ...". Price shouts out his vocals here as if to emphasize his point. The tempo slows on the next number, "Never Be Fooled Again," another soul original that gets a bit funky at times and again features the effective backing vocals of Knott and Leuschner Andersen.

On another funky soulful original, "Expert Witness," Price sings about a former love about whom he's willing to tell a friend about her secrets, with the Sons of the Soul Revivers coming in with great backing vocals and Bones wailing away on the sax.   "...I knew about her reputation for breaking men's hearts, for taking whatever she could get after the loving starts ..." describes what Price knew about that woman, adding "...I remember when she would disappear for days, so many alibis designed to keep me in a haze ..."

Andersen intros the next number, "Love Ballad," with more of his Coral sitar playing as it leads into Price singing about a more successful love affair then others described here. His voice is great, but, oh man, that sitar playing is wonderful! Midway through the tune Leuschner Andersen comes in to make this a very nice duet ... wow! Another funkier soul number, "Synthetic World," gets its synthetic feel from Andersen playing an ARP synthesizer while the horns provide tasteful accompaniment.

Wrapping up this fine album is a slow, soulful number, "Your Love Stays With Me," with the horns again providing just the right background sound. A simpler number that brings it all to a satisfying conclusion.

As I stated at the top of this review, I've been on the Billy Price fanmobile for nearly 40 years. I've liked everything he's recorded, but the collaboration with Kid Andersen and the Wonderland regulars has taken his music to a new level. Reckoning will undoubtedly rank as one of this year's best!

--- Bill Mitchell



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