It’s difficult from the vantage point of half a century to gauge just how important and inspirational the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was in the mid- to late ’60s. The integrated Chicago-based ensemble-in particular singer and harmonica ace Butterfield and the virtuoso guitarist Michael Bloomfield, both long deceased-were principal catalysts in bridging electric blues, modal jazz (their epic jam “East-West” is still numbing) and the new rock of the era. While the ensuing years have seen their star dim somewhat in comparison to other genre-busting artists of the period, there’s been new recognition as of late: In the past year the Butterfield Band has finally been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Sony Legacy released a multi-disc Bloomfield retrospective and now there’s this, an outstanding tribute featuring singer/harpist Rob Paparozzi and the Ed Palermo Big Band.
Although Palermo’s arrangements mostly hew closely to those of the source material, Electric Butter, recorded live, works because these musicians are so obviously indebted to this music. Drawing not only from the Butterfield catalog but from the Electric Flag, the horn-powered soul-rock band Bloomfield formed after leaving the PBBB, Palermo, Paparozzi and company match the original recordings in intensity and grit. Because Palermo’s outfit is itself so horn-centric-there are 10 of them onboard-the Flag’s debut album, A Long Time Comin’, provides four of the 15 tracks on Electric Butter (including two originally sung by drummer Buddy Miles), and others come from Butterfield’s own post-Bloomfield combos, which included horn sections. Those tunes are among the strongest, but equally impressive is the Palermo-rearranged take on “Work Song,” the swinging Nat Adderley-penned instrumental showpiece that, along with the title track, was a highlight of Butterfield’s East-West album.
Not that Electric Butter needs them to validate its credibility, but a handful of guests-Electric Flag bassist Harvey Brooks, Butterfield Band pianist Mark Naftalin, guitarists Steve Cropper and Jimmy Vivino and singer Gabe Butterfield, Paul’s son-bring a stamp of approval to a project that will hopefully not only appeal to acolytes but send newbies hunting down the original releases.