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Scott Henderson: Tore Down House

There’s a serious flaw that has marred many a well-intentioned blues recording. It’s the old syndrome of accomplished instrumentalist with limited vocal abilities deciding to sing on his own album. This sad condition generally afflicts 40-something white former rockers who got turned onto the three Kings, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and the rest of the Chicago blues greats in the ’60s. They emulate their blues heroes with scholarly attention to detail along with the utmost respect and heartfelt sincerity, always striving for authenticity. And while the spirit is willing, the vocal cords are often weak. Simply put, they don’t possess the necessary god-given pipes to pull it off in convincing fashion, resulting in sorry attempts that come across as mere affectation or hollow mimicry.

Scott Henderson knows better. An incredible, incendiary guitarist, he acknowledges his own white suburban roots and wisely leaves the singing to someone more equipped. On Tore Down House (Mesa/Bluemoon 2-92722; 63: 54) he hands over a lion’s share of vocal duties to the great Thelma Houston, who delivers with gutsy, gospel holler intensity. On clever originals like the funky blues shuffle “Dolemite,” the heavy duty John Lee Hooker-styled boogie woogie of “Gittar School” and the slow blues of the title track, the jazz-trained guitarist unleashes with a fretboard frenzy that goes beyond Stevie Ray Vaughan’s technique while summoning up his soulful spirit. “Same As You” is a Jimmy Reed-styled blues with Thelma’s smoldering vocals supported by “Belly Button Window”-styled wah-wah lines. And the humorous “Meter Maid,” done to a Bo Diddley beat, is a bit of musical invective about the widely despised ticket-givers. “Xanax,” full of wang bar weirdness on a forboding groove, is the best song about over-the-counter drugs since The Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper.” Henderson, who penned all the lyrics here, offers some Zappaesque observations about life with “You Get Off On Me” and the tongue-in-cheek “I Hate You,” an anti-romantic doo-wop number featuring playful call and response vocals from Houston and Masta Edwards, who also sings in sanctified fashion on the slow blues, “Mocha.” As an added treat, Henderson renders Jaco Pastorius’ “Continuum” as a Delta blues vehicle complete with downhome slide stylings on a dobro. From start to finish, this disc is inventive, witty and killing.

Originally Published