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CD REVIEW -- Dave Specter
GLT blues radio

Message In Blue
Delmark Records
Message in Blue CD art
By Mark Baier

Chicago’s own Dave Specter has been lighting up stages worldwide for over 30 years. His sophisticated, uptown guitar style makes him an uncommonly good ambassador for the city and its most notorious musical commodity, the Blues. His latest release for Delmark, Message In Blue, finds Specter at the height of his creative powers, delivering a mature, fully realized recording that showcases his confidence as a bandleader well as a recording artist.


Kicking off with a press roll provided by drummer Marty Binder, “New West Side Stroll” is a rollicking instrumental that features Specter’s reverb laden guitar growling and swooning through the changes. Like all the instrumentals featured on Message In Blue, “New West Side Stroll” has the sense that there IS a vocalist, so strong and confident are the guitar figures. Specter’s phrasing and tone is superbly melodic, always serving the structure of the song, never becoming self-indulgent. Recorded in Chicago at Delmark studios with Specter’s touring band of John Kattke (keyboards), Harlan Terson (bass) and the aforementioned Marty Binder on drums, they are telepathic in their ability to hit the right note at the right time. Message in Blue isn’t solely a Dave Specter record; it’s a Dave Specter Band record.


The Dave Specter Band also includes soul singing legend Otis Clay, who delivers a trio of powerhouse tracks. When combined with Specter’s searing guitar lines, the listener is treated to a collaboration that may rank as the most satisfying of Dave’s recording career. Clay’s first track, the old Harold Burrage favorite “Got To Find A Way,” is first class soul, sounding right out of a ‘60s Stax session. Legendary soul singer, horn section, keyboards, background vocals -- Specter brings it all and it’s a huge success! “Got To Find A Way” deserves to be a Number 1 hit today. Clay’s reading of Bobby Blue Bland’s “This Time I’m Gone for Good” is smooth and sweet as honey, just getting better and better upon repeated listening. The vocal is tortured and heartfelt leaving the listener no doubt about Clay’s conviction. Clay’s final tune “I Found A Love”, is reminiscent of the early R&B era Rolling Stones, with Specter providing a super groovy tremolo laden guitar that sounds right out of Robert Ward’s trick bag. It’s a terrific R&B song.


Dave Specter’s secret weapon however, is multi-instrumentalist John Kattke. In addition to playing superb piano and keyboards, Kattke contributes three vocals on Message In Blue: “Chicago Style”, “Same Old Blues” and “Watchdog”. “Chicago Style” is a wonderfully catchy song that could replace “Sweet Home Chicago” as Chicago’s blues anthem. It’s a driving good-time tune, one that has already found its way on many radio station playlists. Kattke digs deep on “Same Old Blues”, with an emotional vocal performance demonstrating a resonant tone and wizened delivery very similar to golden era Gregg Allman. It’s as honest and pure a rendering of a stylish slow blues as you’ll ever hear. Great stuff. Kattke’s final vocal is a galloping rendition of Lonnie Brooks’ “Watchdog”. Specter and company drive this box shuffle hard with tasty solos by both Dave and Kattke on B3.


Like Specter’s prior releases, Message In Blue is peppered with distinctive, unique instrumentals, the type which Dave is renowned for performing. Happily, Specter always places the song above the guitar gymnastics so common on modern blues recordings. As such his solos serve to reinforce the rhythm and melodic journey of each song not merely to demonstrate technical prowess. But make no mistake about it, Dave Specter is a world class guitarist. Mix equal amounts Wes Montgomery with Kenny Burrell and then stir in some Lonnie Brooks, Otis Rush and Magic Slim, and you’ll get the idea. Message In Blue is a record that touches many musical bases; whether it’s upbeat and happy like “The Stinger”, down in the alley like “Opus De Swamp” or reinventing ‘60s soul with “Got To Find A Way”, Dave Specter and his band have made a CD that will satisfy everyone who gives it a spin. There’s not a clunker on Message In Blue, and as a extra special sonic treat, it’s also available on VINYL for all you hi fi aficionados out there.


If you haven’t already done it, get out and see Dave Specter and buy this great Delmark CD. Whether it’s onstage at SPACE in Evanston, or at a festival in Zurich Switzerland, one note and you’ll know, Dave Specter is Chicago style!!!!



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