Blue Star 2020
Three decades since his solo debut, Canadian bluesman dares to bare the roots of the trade in most respectful fashion.
With blues, it’s all about tradition – same old licks echoing down the line to feed the spirit of those who feel the same vibe, and to get transmogrified along the way – but Jack De Keyzer turned such an approach around to deliver what can be the defining, albeit not definitive, album of his long, award-awash career. Instead of refracting masters of yore through his personal prism, the veteran bends his original tunes, and strings, and makes them suit the mold of people that influenced millions of players. The result is a puzzle for the listener eager to recognize familiar templates and savor the Canadian’s ability to own the generation-tested process yet remain true to both himself and his predecessors on the scene and, thus, take “Tribute” beyond a simple homage.
This is why there are surprises aplenty even in the deceptively obvious fragments – like a “Layla” quote in “Forever” or the title of “Supernatural”: the former a riff-driven if multidimensional, triumphant if infectious, electrically charged if flamenco-tinctured, finale which Clapton would be privileged to cover, the latter an ethereal if upbeat, in a Greeny manner, acoustically laced if robust, serenade stressing the suppleness of De Keyzer’s voice and nimbleness of his fingers. It’s not difficult to distinguish the aforementioned giants’ shapes in the sax-smeared smash “Let’s Do It” but the shades of other Chicago-minded performers are present here too. While the brass-splashed, ebullient “On The Money” and the organ-oiled “Just For The Funk” push jazzy jive to the fore, “That’s How We Make Love” offers a delicate, breezy dance and elegantly slides into the Benson-esque fusion, with Jack’s voice fluttering over the fretboard whence a series of muscular solos fly off, there’s nothing as optimistic as opener “Are You Ready” that roars in a Rory style, and nothing as insistent as “Coming Up” whose dramatic piano presides over a six-string rave.
The boogie of “Shake What Your Mama Gave You” is impossible to resist, either, and the stinging balladry behind “You Turned My World To Blue” is deliciously passionate, showcasing the artist’s honeyed vocals and soft touch – as opposed to the simmering “If My Baby Left Me” where his chosen genre’s tropes defy the blues’ by-the-numbers nature, or the unexpectedly incendiary reggae of “Keep The Fire Burning” which soars higher and higher. All of these pieces firmly stand their own ground, so knowing their prototypes must not be required, yet grooving to “Tribute” shouldn’t be optional: it’s one of the best albums of 2020 – hands down.