Sunday, April 6, 2014

Travis Haddix. Ring on Her Finger, Rope Around My Neck.

Travis Haddix.  Ring on Her Finger, Rope Around My Neck.
Benevolent Blues, 2013.   Travis Haddix:

Travis Haddix has his origins in Mississippi, but has been a Cleveland-area resident for many decades.  He is now in his 70s, but put out his first solo blues album in 1988, and released a string of them on the Ichiban label, even while keeping his day job.  I have lost count of how many subsequent to then. His new album has the same strengths of his previous releases--a strong, ringing guitar style in the manner of B. B. King, a good, soulful tenor voice, memorable tunes, and musical variety from track to track. It suffers from the same weaknesses too--a tendency toward sexist lyrics, and over-reliance on cliché.

He certainly has credibility.  A sharecropper’s son who moved north, did military service, a tradesman who worked the clubs on the side in the Cleveland area before getting picked up by Little Johnny Taylor, putting out his own albums, and extensive touring, he’s certainly had a life to play the blues with.  Haddix is an excellent guitarist who know when to solo, when to punctuate, when to play over the horn section or the keyboards, and when to hold back and let the band work.  An excellent example is the slow burner, “Full, but Frustrated,” where he starts the tune with his guitar over the horns before launching into the song, then leaps in with a lick or two after some verses, but not others, where the horns dominate.  He launches into a solo at the bridge that is sweet and soulfully played.  He tends to alternate fast and slow tunes, which makes for alert listening.  As for the band, I tend to prefer the group playing on Tracks 1, 2, and 4.  The horns seem more balanced and better arranged.  On the other tracks they often sound flat, with too much low brass dominating.  The exception is the last song, “Same Thing, Same Way,” where everything seems balanced and just right.

The lyrics are the problem.  Haddix is stuck in an old-fashioned mode of blues writing where almost everything is about sex, only secondarily about love, and very little else.  She done him wrong.  He wants revenge.  She got what she deserved.  He’s horny and it’s her fault.  Commitment is risky.  He’s getting older, but he’s still a stud.  He works hard and she doesn’t appreciate him.  Please, stop; the ridiculous old idea that women are wicked and men are stupid is so tired and worn.  The worst of these is the title track, but there are plenty of others.  If he would only write songs about how things have worked out, despite difficulties, or how they haven’t worked out, but it’s his own fault, the sexism might not be so noticeable.  Perhaps he could sing about his marriage of over 50 years, which flies in the face of all his lyrics.

Travis Haddix is a very good blues musician, and his music is deserving of a wide audience.  Sadly, his lyrics will continue to limit his appeal.

Personnel:  Tracks 1, 2, 4:  Travis Haddix (vocals, guitar), Rick Hinkle (rhythm guitar, engineer), Marlon Hunter (engineer), Steve Crawford (piano), “Big” Royal Joiner (keyboard), Marion McFarland (drums), John Haamid (drums), Poindexter Evans (bass guitar), Jeff Hager (trumpet), David Ruffin (tenor sax), Tony Fortunato (baritone sax).  Tracks: 3, 5, 7-10:  Travis Haddix (vocals, guitar), Brian Hager (rhythm guitar, engineer, final mix & master), Gil Zachary (piano), Don Williams (organ), ED Lemmers (bass), Lonnie Crosby (bass), Jeremy Sullivan (drums), Vernon Jones (drums), Tony Fortunato (baritone sax), David Ruffin (tenor sax), Scott Tenney (trumpet).
Tracks:  Jodie, Doctor Doctor, Ring on Her Finger, Rope around My Neck, Patience with a Purpose, Old Fashioned Justice, In Good Shape for the Shape I’m In, Full, but Frustrated, She’s Good, She’s Better, She’s Best, Two Jobs with a Paper Route, Same Thing, Same Way.

Gottfried Klaas

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