Personnel: Curtis Salgado (vocals, harmonica, background vocals); Johnny Lee Schell (guitar, background vocals); Jacob Wolf, Jeff Golub, Marlon McClain (guitar); Joe Sublett (saxophone); Les Lovitt (trumpet); Jon Cleary (piano); Mike Finnigan (keyboards); Tony Braunagel (drums); Michito S nchez (percussion); Melodye Perry, Tim Scott, Julie Delgado (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: John Porter.
Recording information: Ultratone Studios, Studio City, CA (2007-2008).
Photographer: Ross Hamilton.
Call this the album that almost never was. In 2006 Curtis Salgado was diagnosed with liver cancer and given eight months to live unless he underwent a half-million-dollar operation. The money was raised from benefits by friends of Salgado such as Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Steve Miller, and Taj Mahal, and donations from fans. After the successful transplant, the cancer spread to his lungs, requiring yet another operation. On his first post-cancer release, anyone not knowing what he went through would be astonished that he could come out of the ordeal sounding this healthy. Salgado enlisted members of the Phantom Blues Band and drummer/producer Tony Braunagel to handle the backing, and the combination is a natural extension of the soul-blues stew the singer/harpist has been cooking up since his first solo album in 1991. It takes confidence in your vocal abilities to cover tunes sung by Smokey Robinson ("Who's Lovin' You"), Al Green ("Let's Get Married"), and Little Richard ("I Don't Want to Discuss It"), but Salgado is up to the challenge and turns in striking performances that do justice to -- or, in the case of the Robinson tune, improve on -- the originals. Elsewhere, Salgado wades in the rocking swamp blues of "Heartache," shifts into Johnny "Guitar" Watson funk-soul mode for the title track, and heads to Memphis for the Hi-styled "Drivin' in the Drivin' Rain," the latter one of four originals co-written by Salgado. There's more than a little Delbert McClinton to his raspy voice, which he uses to terrific effect on the moody, obsessive "My Confessions." The rollicking Clapton tune "Bottle of Red Wine" is a perfect vehicle for Salgado's soul shake, and gives him a chance to blow some tough harp. Blues looms large in his catalog of influences, and Salgado pays tribute to one of the genre's icons in "20 Years of B.B. King" with lyrics comprised predominantly of King song titles. It sounds corny, but he pulls it off due to his obvious sincerity and by playing it straight. The connection with the Phantom Blues Band is both natural and inspired as they lay into this material but never steal the spotlight from Salgado, who sounds enthused and, well, glad to be alive. Comebacks don't get much sweeter. ~ Hal Horowitz