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Toronzo Cannon - Shut Up And Play

Release date: June 7, 2024

Alligator Records
By Mark Thompson

Photo: Roman Sobus

One of Chicago's finest contemporary blues artists, Toronzo Cannon is back with his third release on the venerated Alligator Records label, following two other releases on Delmark Records, another legendary label. In recent years the guitarist has retired from his job of driving a CTA bus, and did his best to survive the Covid years.


 More importantly, Cannon has been dealing with the effects of his divorce, a subject he returns to throughout the 12 original songs composed for this project. His distaste for the emotional wreckage that follows a break-up gets a no-holds-barred airing on “I Hate Love,” an anguished lamentation on his seemingly inescapable grief. Fortunately for him, his guitar provides a safe haven, allowing him to ease the pain emanating from his searing vocal. The mood shifts on “Message To My Daughter,” a beautifully constructed Curtis Mayfield-type ballad that finds the guitarist leaving no doubt as to love he feels for his child, making sure she understands that, “...when me and your Mother split apart, we didn't divorce you too.” Cole DeGenova's keyboard work adds an other-worldly aspect to the track.


“Got Me by the Short Hairs” is a full-blown rocker with Cannon feeling trapped by the aftermath of a one-night stand. Once again he turns to his guitar, cranking out several striking solo passages while detailing a witty twist to the tale. Brian Quinn on bass and Jason “J Roc” Edwards on drums lay down a driving pace on “Unlovable,” which has Cannon at wits end as his woman explicitly complains about him treating her too nicely. Things aren't improving on “If I'm Always Wrong,” a gospel-tinged elegy from a man who has had enough, vowing to be strong, yet not taking the first step out the door.


Another highlight occurs on “My Woman Loves Me Too Much,” a real departure from Cannon's usual approach. He plays acoustic guitar with Quinn on upright bass and guest Matthew Skoller blowing some fine acoustic harmonica on a song that slyly celebrates one of the possible effects of menopause. DeGenova shines one more time on “Guilty,” as Cannon reminds listeners that we all have things to hide, one more fact that speaks to the commonality of the human condition. Things take a funky turn on “Him,” but the guitarist is still dealing with love issues, this time from a woman who can't escape the pain of a past relationship. Cannon does his best to provide comfort before letting his guitar make an eloquent statement on his behalf.


Things are looking up on the driving “Something To Do Man,” with Cannon at ease being a woman's “boy toy,” and his blistering guitar solo proves he is raring to go! When he takes us to church on “Had To Go Through It To Get To It,” the guitarist joyfully shares some of his life experiences, secure in the knowledge they shaped the man he is today. The title track ends the proceedings with Cannon's scorching response to those who take issue with him speaking out on racial and social injustice in his music. His impassioned voice soars over Hendrix-inspired guitar licks that hark back to “Machine Gun.” It is a fitting climax for all that has come before, with the caveat, “we all should be tired of the double dealing.”


A deeply personal album, Shut Up & Play lacks some of the humor that has always been key element of Cannon's songwriting. Instead he immerses himself into a swirling torrent of emotions with often chilling intensity, undoubtedly praying that his primal screams into the night will bring some measure of relief. It can be tough to listen to, as it should be. Toronzo Cannon speaks his truth about the human experience, and it is something to behold.

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.

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