Waterhouse 1980 / Angel Air 2018
Dancing the night away, golden-fingered guitarist tries to wave goodbye only to bring home unhappy smile and stay on track.
Roy Buchanan died – or was killed – in a prison cell thirty years ago, in 1988, but he became a prisoner, in creative terms, much, much earlier, and “My Babe” could have been his last album. Soon after its release, the American artist retired from studio work and vowed to record again only if a label would allow him to cut what he wanted the way he wanted, because this LP looked like the worst compromise ever made. But such was Buchanan’s talent that even the least inspired pieces sounded arresting once Roy let rip and soared.
Not that the harnessing of period production gave the guitarist a lot of space to fly, yet from today’s perspective the tight pulse of “You Gotta Let Me Know” must be a perfect example of how sexed-up – and at the same time, intelligent – the marriage of blues to disco can be, Buchanan’s six strings going for filigree groans, while keyboard player Paul Jacobs’ vocal attack seems more gracious than wild here. The disposition will be reversed with the title track where Roy’s reserve is lifted to set his liquid licks and Paul’s roar and piano roll free, although there’s also mellifluous, if muscular, suppleness to “It Should’ve Been Me” which could easily challenge Gladys Knight’s version of this classic.
Just as scintillating, “Lack Of Funk” may focus on the era-favored rhythm and fail, had it not been for the hot handling of a fretboard and the “Entrance Of The Gladiators” quote close to the song’s coda, and “Dr. Rock & Roll” is too glossy and superfluous for Buchanan – saved only by his group’s vigor. That’s what’s missing from the unhurried reading of “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” whose dancefloor destination feels good nevertheless, yet the master’s tone on “Secret Love” demonstrates enchanting transparency, his Telecaster imitating mandolin and pedal steel along the way. Further down the line, “My Sonata” – one of the two instrumentals Roy penned for this project – embraces penumbral romance, albeit not to the extent of “Blues For Gary” that’s deeply emotional, especially when upper regions of the neck are caressed.
It’s clear what influence the number’s writer had on its hero’s namesake Moore, and this reissue bonus, a 30-minute interview with Buchanan, explains many other things. Thankfully, Roy would receive another chance to let his guitar do the talking, but “My Babe” remains a testimony to the greatness of the master’s worst works.