Release date: Dec. 1, 2021
By Jeff Johnson
Delmark Records is billing Six String Soul as “A SPECtacular retroSPECtive,” an apt description and clever play on words for this two-disc survey of Windy City guitar star Dave Specter’s 30-year career with Chicago’s iconic blues and jazz label. For the uninitiated, it’s a fine jumping-off point to his deep and varied recorded output. And for longtime fans, the set allows for enlightening comparisons between the old and the new as well as the guitarist’s amazing range of styles. As producer, songwriter and frontman, Specter displays an uncanny knack throughout for capturing the best work from an impressive array of guest artists and a score of Delmark stalwarts who’ve added their talents to Specter’s discs.
The two discs contain 14 tunes each, nine with vocal performances and five instrumental workouts. Together they clock in at nearly 2 ½ hours, a listening party that rarely lags in energy or quality.
Beginning with three tunes from Bluebird Blues, Specter’s 1991 Delmark debut featuring vocalist Barkin’ Bill Smith, and wrapping up with “The Ballad of George Floyd,” Specter’s poignant 2021 digital single with Chicago harpist-vocalist extraordinaire Billy Branch, the fast-paced romp is rich with highlights.
To further liven things up, I’d suggest a guessing game of “Name That Soloist” whenever Specter swaps riffs with such accomplished six-string slingers as Ronnie Earl, Lurrie Bell, Steve Freund, Jimmy Johnson and Jorma Kaukonen. Specter never engages in head-cutting, but is content to complement the styles of his guests. He’s equally committed in service of the tune when he accompanies singers as diverse as Jesse Fortune, Tad Robinson, Floyd McDaniel and Otis Clay. Specter is at his most spectacular backing the late soul/blue/gospel great Clay on the Bobby Blue Bland showstopper “This Time I’m Gone for Good,” one of four album tracks from their underappreciated 2014 collaboration Message in Blue. Also enjoy Specter at his rhythmic peak with the instrumentals “The Stinger” and “Sanctifunkious.” You’ll find that Specter came out of the box as a fully formed axman and evolved into the artist he is today during his 30-year Delmark odyssey.
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