Trudy Lynn with the Calvin Owens Blues Orchestra
Homegrown Houston blues mama Trudy Lynn has belted out her 13th CD, I'm Still Here, and it's all still good. Actually, a few moments of Still Here border on the great. The title song, a slow blues ballad that Lynn wrote, shows Lynn the singer at her best, moaning and growling, hitting deep low notes reminiscent of early Aretha Franklin. This is what the blues are all about. Weary, but still standing. Broken, but still strong. On "I'm Still Here" Lynn the singer and Lynn the songwriter are both superb. Likewise, on the CD's opening cut, "Swing Boogie," written by Rue Davis, Lynn and the orchestra's fabulous horn section burn hot from the first note.
Too bad Lynn doesn't maintain that kind of excellence throughout the CD. Calvin Owens (who is credited here as producer, arranger, bandleader and featured soloist) and Nelson Mills (arranger, singer and trumpet soloist) have their sticky, smeary fingerprints all over the album, much to the project's detriment.
Proving that misogynist, condescending lyrics didn't start with rap, Mills sings, "Hands off my woman / She's my property / You know I love that big leg woman / She belongs to me." Even the nimble work by Guitar Shorty and a monster horn section can't save the song once Mills goes into his squeaky falsetto. Bad enough he sings about some big-legged woman that he owns, but then he does it so badly. Damn.
The same is true for Owens's "Boogie Woogie Gumbo." Busy, mindless and rushed, it's a mishmash of zydeco-tinged nonsense. Accordionist Jabo, the Texas Prince of Zydeco (hey, that's how the credits list him), is barely heard. And it's more babble on Owens's "Saturday Night."
Yes, the album is named Trudy Lynn with the Calvin Owens Blues Orchestra, and Owens and Mills are understandably featured. But every time Lynn sings, it's classic Texas blues, and every time Owens or Mills takes the spotlight, it's noticeably not. The orchestra, which has some of Houston's best musicians, including Keith Vivens, Paul English, David Caceras, Eddie Lewis, Ed Lowe and Reggie Goebel, does what it's told to, and when Owens lets them, they shine. The problem is, Owens doesn't let them very often.
Not that Lynn doesn't make a few missteps. "You're the Only One" sounds a little dated, more like a '70s movie soundtrack than a classic blues tune. But even then, Lynn does as much as anybody possibly could with it. Her mistake is in having put the cut on the CD, not in how she sings it. And calling herself "The Diva," "The Bluestress" and "Houston's First Lady of Soul" in her CD liner notes, well, that's a bit much. True, for putting out more than a dozen albums of tough, true Texas blues, she deserves some kind of title, but "diva" seems a bit contrived.
I'm Still Here would have been better if Lynn had said to Owens and Mills from time to time, "Hey, it's my CD and I'm still here. Y'all shut up." It's too bad she didn't. They mar what could have been an outstanding release.
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