Album Reviews

Billy Flynn

Artist:     Billy Flynn

Album:     Lonesome Highway

Label:     Delmark

Release Date:     03/24/2017

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billy flynn513hB8iT8sLAt a time when ten songs and one half hour of music is often all an album offers, Billy Flynn weighs in with 17 songs and 70 minutes of music. Maybe he’s making up for lost time. Even the label folks indicate that this is long past due, Flynn’s Delmark debut as a bandleader. Flynn, of course, has as wide and deep a blues guitar vocabulary as anyone who has ever played. He is the traditionalist’s guitar player, who has been swinging his axe for over four decades in Chicago. He’s been the first call for his mentor, Jimmy Dawkins, as well as Billy Boy Arnold, Kim Wilson, Mississippi Heat, Legendary Blues Band, James Wheeler, Cash Box Kings, and too many others to mention. Kim Wilson says, “Billy Flynn is one the greatest guitarists alive and one the greatest to ever live. There’s not much he doesn’t know about the blues and many other kinds of music. He is truly the musician’s musician.” Big Jon Atkinson echoes, “There’s no one like Billy Flynn, from lowdown to uptown one of the heaviest players I have ever heard.”

To be accurate, Flynn is a multi-instrumentalist who plays mandolin, harp, percussion and guitar. He plays all but the mandolin here. Not only that, he penned 16 of the 17 songs, the only exception being his adaptation of the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s “In Crowd.” Billy has been leading his own group for decades and is respected for not only his encyclopedic knowledge but for his humility and unselfish nature too. Billy is completely dedicated and immersed in this art form. He can quote the masters like Otis Rush, and Jimmy Dawkins (“If It Wasn’t for the Blues”), Robert Nighthawk (“Jackson Street”), Earl Hooker (“Small Town”), and John Lee Hooker (“Waiting Game”) at the drop of a hat. Listen closely to hear all of those styles here, abetted by Flynn’s sparklingly clean picking and flourishes on his rhythm and lead guitar. It’s a journey through post-war Chicago blues of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s with R&B, soul jazz and funk sprinkled in, almost subtly because of the original material.

Billy selected the session players for the record and got production help from blues masters Dick Shurman and Steve Wagner. Flynn is joined by Roosevelt Purifoy on keys, the rhythm section of bassist E.G. McDaniel and drummer “Blaze” Thomas. Doug Corcoran on trumpet and Christopher Neal on sax contribute on most tracks. Vocalist Deitra Farr sings on the opener, “Good Navigator,” and “Hold On,” the latter of which features some nice harp from Flynn as do three or four others. Dick Shurman, who has produced countless blues albums, calls this “one of the great Chicago blues guitar albums.” The album is dedicated to Billy’s friend, father figure, and musical mentor Jimmy Dawkins, who Billy started playing with as a teenager. Many of these songs were shared with Jimmy for advice before Jimmy’s passing in 2013. With endorsements from Shurman, Dawkins, and countless other blues masters, how can you possibly go wrong? Let Billy Flynn play the blues for you.

—Jim Hynes

 

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