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CD REVIEW -- Dave Specter




Spectified CD large

By Mark Baier

The art of the Blues instrumental has a rich and varied history. From pioneers like Lonnie Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson, Blues artists of every stripe have put their personalities on display, sans vox. Critical to the success of an instrumental piece is its ability to convey emotion melodically. Within the blues idiom, this is easier said than done! The natural stylistic constraints require adept and nuanced use of melody and rhythm for an instrumental to be memorable and compelling. Jody Williams’  “Lucky Lou” and Freddie King’s “Hideway” are prime examples of masterpieces in Blues instrumentals. With Spectified, guitarist/composer Dave Specter, in this great tradition, has produced a recording that will be considered among the masterpieces of the modern era.


Spectified is Dave’s first recording on the Fret12 imprint after decades with Delmark Records. His tenure with Delmark was productive, yielding eight records with a variety of vocalists abetting Specter’s formidable guitar skills. Specter is a rare commodity in the music world, a musician as respected in the Jazz fraternity as the Blues, and this pedigree is fully evident from the first notes on Spectified. The opening track, “Stick to the Hip”, with its clever riffs and graceful embellishments is the definition of instrumental swagger. Specter weaves the catchy guitar figure into the tune like a fine tapestry, his urbane style and uptown sophistication on full display. With nothing more than a dab of reverb and a big Gibson hollowbody, Specter is able to create a pallet of guitar tones that range from red hot to cool blue. The aural impact is immediately evident; its rawness and rich texture are emotive and powerful.


Specter’s arrangements are first-class, always serving the song first, and then the soloist. So often a blues instrumental exists as a vehicle for a soloist to blow through the changes in a display of prowess; on Spectified, the individual song’s melodic architecture is always manifest, with the guitar solos reinforcing the melody effortlessly. Some individual standouts include the deep blues “Alley Walk” and the hypnotically romantic “Azulado”.  “Rumba & Tonic” features playful Earl Hookerish interplay with Los Lobos’ Dave Hidalgo on accordion and John Kattke on keyboards.


For Spectified, Dave surrounded himself with a cast of Chicago’s finest, including longtime bandmate Harlan Terson on bass and Greg Wyser-Pratte on drums. Brother John Kattke provides his signature virtuosity on piano and Hammond B3, while Pete Benson plays organ on three tracks. The Bo Weevil Brass (Mike Cichowicz trumpet, Dez Desormeaux sax, and Johnny Janowiak, trombone) lay down velvety smooth horns behind Specter, never dominating and always complementing Spectified’s sonic recipe. The recordings took shape at LOCM (League of Creative Musicians), a recording studio in back of Evanston’s SPACE nightclub, thus giving Dave the freedom and “space” to create this personal statement.


With his considerable guitar talents and inventive, intuitive sense of style and melody, Dave Specter has blurred the lines between Blues and Jazz so effectively that Spectified will find enthusiastic audiences in both camps. His ability to create deep feelings of joy, loneliness and redemption melodically are a pleasure to experience. Spectifed is that rarest of commodities: accessible, cultivated and visceral. It will go a long way to insuring Dave Specter’s place in the pantheon of instrumental giants. Like modern master Ronnie Earl has before him, Specter’s instrumental grace will assure him an appreciative, diverse audience and the unadulterated respect of musicians worldwide.  Spectified earns the highest rating: Five Stars.



Momo Mama Blue Chicago
Blue Chicago
536 N. Clark
Chicago, IL
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Dave Specter & Mark Wydra
Nov. 24 at
SPACE, Evanston
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