Artist: Curtis Salgado and Alan Hager
Album: Rough Cut
Label: Alligator Records
Release Date: 01.12.2018
The miracle man returns with yet another extraordinary album. Curtis Salgado sings soul and the blues as if honey and habanero were sizzling on a whetstone. You’d expect rail crossings to lower with the melodic sound of his harp. Salgado’s been at it for four decades, leading his own outfits and standing front and center for stints in the Robert Cray Band, Roomful of Blues, and Santana. But Salgado’s the miracle man because he’s beaten three major attacks of cancer and a quadruple bypass, and still blows doors off as powerfully as when he was John Belushi’s inspiration for the Blues Brothers in 1977.
Rough Cut, co-billed to Salgado and fellow Portland, Oregon resident Alan Hager follows quickly on the heels of Salgado’s bold, outstanding R&B outing, The Beautiful Lowdown. What a stark contrast between them! The new album harkens back to 1997’s Hit It And Quit It with guitarist Terry Robb, in that it’s a stripped-down, primarily duet effort chock full of the blues. Rough Cut is surely the coarser of the two. The men settle in with their co-composed “I Will Not Surrender,” a factual blues, it seems, about resolve in the face of serious hardship. Salgado’s frank recitation (“Feel every cut, and take it like a man”), and Hager’s stark guitar notes jab in conjunction like dull knives. But, the song extols survival as much as it wallows in pain, and it just gets better from there.
Hager began playing guitar at age ten, and studied under jazz innovator Pat Metheny at Berklee. His wide-ranging facility thrills within the delta blues of Son House’s “Depot Blues,” the Piedmont style in Robert Wilkins’ “Long Train Blues” (during which he also sings a fine lead vocal), the powerful gospel of the traditional “Morning Train” (aka “Get Right Church”), and whatever else in between. His strumming and picking alongside Salgado’s impassioned singing and spiritual harmonica piping in their original “So Near to Nowhere” makes for a light, magical blues experience. Alternately, listen as they grind out Elmore James’ “You Got To Move.” If that’s not what Hager refers to as “American classical music,” nothing is. It would be an injustice if this album doesn’t win Salgado and Hager several awards.