The Crusaders: Joe Sample (piano, Fender/Rhodes); Wilton Felder (tenor saxophone, Fender bass); Wayne Henderson (trombone); Larry Carlton (electric guitar); Stix Hooper (drums).
The follow-up to 1973's Unsung Heroes was the first of the group's Blue Thumb efforts to be distributed by ABC Records. The label switch also coincided with the inclusion of lyrical guitarist Larry Carlton as a full-fledged member. Although much of Southern Comfort puts a gloss on ideas made definitive on earlier efforts, the complaints are minimal and this remains the most appealing, multi-faceted incarnation of the band. The first track, "Stomp and Buck Dance," is an offhanded and skilled approach to the group's patently earthy style. The insistent "The Well's Gone Dry" has the edginess of some of the better tracks on Unsung Heroes, and has Carlton doing great work on the bridge. Not surprisingly, it is Carlton's presence here that adjusts the band chemistry and makes the best of Southern Comfort even more so. The best track here, the poignant "When There's Love Around," has Carlton's guitar attaining the perfect sense of longing that meshes well with Joe Sample's trademark Fender Rhodes tones. The last tracks here are also in a thoughtful ballad vein: "Lilies of the Nile" has great horn work from Wilton Felder and Wayne Henderson, and the last track, "A Ballad for Joe (Louis)," is a heartfelt rumination on the life of the famed boxer, featuring Sample's inherent sense of melody. A good representation of the Crusaders' tasteful and intelligent playing, Southern Comfort is more than recommended to their fans. ~ Jason Elias