By Brian Tucker
There’s a long shelf life ahead with Randy McQuay’s recent release Solo.
The ten songs on it, which spans reggae and soul drenched bluesy numbers, doesn’t lend itself to a specific time. There’s not much to cement a specific time. But its varied influences are there, buried underneath the songs or running colorfully through them. The result is an album that’s one half a Saturday night and the other half a pleasant Sunday afternoon.
Solo is a long gestated album, the music recorded and worked on over many years. Some of it dates back to McQuay’s years playing as part of RootSoul Project. The blues singer-songwriter put finishing touches on Solo and released it shortly after winning Best Solo performance at this year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis last January.
But the songs on it don’t truly reflect the style of playing that helped him win in Memphis. Solo sounds like another performer altogether, a testament to the range and talent of McQuay. Someone unfamiliar with McQuay would be hard pressed to tell the difference. Here, McQuay is playing at full tilt at times, others he’s wearing a heart on his sleeve with experience beyond their years.
At the heart is blues music, but he’ll occasionally dress it up fancy like the rip roaring “Back on My Feet Again,” a song recalling late 90s blues singer R.L. Burnside. It could easily be played at a dance club, stares from people on the floor be damned. On it he utilizes technology, delivering a hypnotic song with feisty guitar song paired with looped beats and vocals that sound auto-tuned for fun.
He follows with a storyteller’s low down delivery on “Worse Case Scenario.” These two tracks at the middle of Solo highlight McQuay’s interests, making for an album that’s a feast for ears enjoying a different song with each turn. He even declares a love of music on it – “I love reggae music, hip hop and rock and roll, anything jazz or swing, country soul.” Almost all of it’s to be found on Solo.
That baker’s dozen attitude hits you from the beginning, starting with the head bobbing “Feelin’ Happy,” a drenched in slide guitar barn burner about facing the day with a positive attitude. It’s heavy drumming drives the song with Bill Withers flavored organ playing. Again, McQuay turns on a dime and follows with the reggae and R&B laced “Hit & Run.”
He lands best with the slower numbers, like the excellent bittersweet “For a Moment” and its universal theme of longing. McQuay sings gentlemanly and sincere, “Walk in the room, thought that was you, though you’re not here, you’re presence is felt.” Its counterpart would be “Everything’s OK,” a lovely song McQuay wrote while being pulled over by a state trooper on Kerr Avenue. The song is a carefree Sunday walk, lovers holding hands. McQuay bridges soulfulness with a whiskey ‘n honey soaked delivery, made for radio airplay.
While “Old Friend” seems like it would close out the album (its lyrical reflection built around piano, mandolin and acoustic guitar becomes an electrified monster), the larger-than-life “Will You Be Ready” ends things by leaving you with something to think about. A song about sin and redemption, it marries gospel vocal energy with driving percussion and guitar work.