Release date: August 1, 2022
By Mark Thompson
photo by: Ryan Bennett
No doubt about it – Derrick Procell can sing. Not in the flashy style that usually leaves any real emotion buried in the midst of unending vocal gymnastics, but a singer who takes his time, telling stories that resonate time and again, through original songs that explore the frailties of the human experience, touching on everything from heartache to hope, with humor always close by.
Originally from Milwaukee, Procell's career has taken him across the country, starting his recording career at age 16 in Nashville and later Chicago. His hearty baritone voice has been featured time and again in commercials, particularly from most of the major beer breweries. His original songs have been featured on a variety of television shows and movie soundtracks as well as on recordings by the Cash Box Kings and an award-winning Shemekia Copeland album.
After decades in the studio, the singer released an album under his own name, Why I Choose To Sing The Blues, that was favorably received by the critics. Procell is back with a new project on the Catfood Records, the label that also has releases by Johnny Rawls (including one with Otis Clay), James Armstrong, Dave Keller, Barbara Carr, the late Linda “Kay Kay” Greenwade, and guitarist Zac Harmon -- who Procell enlisted to produce the album, a role Harmon has filled many times in his career.
Label owner Bob Trenchard lays down the bass lines in addition to co-writing three songs with Procell. His veteran studio band, the Rays, include Johnny McGhee on guitar, Richy Puga on drums, and Dan Ferguson on keyboards. The lively arrangements bristle with energetic contributions of the horn section comprised of Andy Roman on alto and tenor saxophones, Nick Flood on baritone and tenor sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet, and Frank Otero on trombone. The percussive accents are courtesy of Munyungo Jackson.
Harmon's piercing guitar announces the opening track, “Skin In The Game,” a charged appeal Procell directs to a love interest who has yet to match his level of commitment. The singer employs a seemingly effortless delivery, yet has no trouble conjuring up the appropriate soulful grit when warranted. The title track, “Hello Mojo!” is a joyous, horn-driven romp that delves into the excitement of a new love, memorable for the animated exchange between guests Peter Neumer on tenor sax and Steve Duncan on trombone. The multi-talented Procell is featured on piano.
Those tracks are two of the four tunes Procell co-wrote with another Chicago native, Terry Abrahamson, who played a major songwriting role in the singer's previous effort. Abrahamson won a Grammy for penning songs for Muddy Waters and has other impressive creative writing credits. The duo establishes an easy-flowing groove on “A Tall Glass Of You,” a quirky love song notable for lines, probably from lyricist Abrahamson, like “I've been knocking back bourbon since the day I could spell Jim Beam, “ or “I can hold more tequila than Zorro on the 5th of May”. The ballad “Color Of An Angel” features Procell at his soulful best, with Ferguson's keyboard efforts matching the singer's expressiveness.
“The Contender” is a thunderous anthem about a man fighting his way back against all odds, Procell's hard-edged vocal softened by the heavenly backing vocals from Sueann Carwell, Meredith Colby, and Jessica Ivey. Another song co-authored with Trenchard, “Baby I'm Lost,” is a country-tinged ode that provides Procell with an opportunity to showcase his harmonica skills, which he also utilizes to great effect on the third song from Trenchard, “Broken Promise”. His mournful tones amplify the sadness of lost love, feelings given an emphatic airing by the singer before the band breaks into a up-tempo section anchored by lusty horn riffs, creating a mood diametrically opposed to the message Procell is preaching so effectively.
“I Can't Say No” is one of the two songs the singer wrote on his own. It adopts a bit of the New Orleans R&B feel, inspiring another stellar vocal turn from the author, with Roman punctuating the proceedings with some well-placed sax blasts. The gentle flow of the ballad “Bittersweet Memory” plays to Procell's strengths as a singer, resulting in an entrancing performance. The lone cover, “Who'll Be The Next In Line,” finds the singer and the band injecting plenty of uptown blues swagger into the Kinks release from 1965, penned by Ray Davies.
A joy to listen to from start to finish, the latest from Derrick Procell makes it clear that he has the voice, and the requisite chops, to make a name for himself in the blues community. Partnering with Harmon, Trenchard, and the Catfood band gives him the level of strong instrumental backing that never fails to inspire singers to be at their best at every turn. This one is definitely worth a listen.........and another, and another..........
For info or to buy the music: www.catfoodrecords.com
About the Author:Mark Thompson lives in Bradenton, Florida and is the past president of the Suncoast Blues Society. A former Chicago area native, he also acted as the president of Rockford/Byron's Crossroads Blues Society. Thompson writes for many blues publications and served on the Board for the Blues Foundation in Memphis, which hosts the annual Blues Music Awards and International Blues Challenge events.