You know, some people really don't understand the blues and what those people don't understand is that the blues don't have to give you the blues (sorry that was a bit wordy) - the first time I heard Red House I was amazed and elated and these years later, it still has the same effect on me.
Like some of the old jazzers and blues players before him, guitarist and vocalist Zach Prather is a Chicago-born musician who has made continental Europe his home, and he knows what I know about the blues - it don't have to give you the blues. His Zug (Switzerland) based band Slight Return (Urs Baumeler on bass, Eric Kunz on drums, Chris Heule on Hammond organ and Michel Carras on keyboards) is reverentially named after the colossal track Voodoo Chile from 1968's Electric Ladyland album, and the spirit, if not the tangible influence of, Jimi Hendrix is at large here, not least in the skilful rhythm guitar playing.
Prather nails his influences to his mast and whilst his work doesn't break any new ground, it is played with exhilaration, freshness and great skill. Steam Roller cooks, as they say, with gas, a propulsive, motivating mover and on 'Mercy', the band are terrific, locked as one into a Hammond-led funky blues riff that doesn't let up - my favourite track.
The slower stuff complements the rockers - 'It Ain't You', a personal break-up ballad, is beautifully achieved with a deft lightness of touch, a delight - I was wrong before, this is my favourite, and I'll also be repeat playing 'Thru It All' this summer. Title track 'Freak' is an exuberant remake of Rufus Thomas' Walkin' The Dog, crossed with Robert Parker's Barefootin', and 'Cadillac 69' is a Chuck Berry inspired on-the-road boogie-blues where Albert Lee would be pleased with the scorching guitar picking.
Tempo and stylistic changes keep the attention throughout, evidenced by Zach's exemplary take on the great Otis Rush's 'All Your Lovin', softening the vocal edge of the Bluesbreakers / Clapton version with a simpatico Santana woman-tone treatment, whist the treatment of Bill Withers Ain't No Sunshine (normally I would say "don't touch a classic" - what ain't broke shouldn't be fixed) is rightly respectful to the original but strips the song back and does new things to it. There's room for the jazzy cri-de-coeur 'In Love With You', an absolute stonking, bruising rendition of Lonnie Brooks in-your-face twelve-bar 'Wound Up Tight' and, unbelievably, an irresistible horn-driven northern soul floor-filler, 'Provider', that would make a great single - OK, Provider is actually my favourite track - or is it...?
This guy should be massive and I hope he makes it.
1 Steam Roller
3 It Ain't You
5 All You're Lovin
6 Cadillack 69
7 Thru It All
8 In Love With You
9 Ain't No Sunshine
11 I Can Make It
12 Wound Up Tight
13 Guest Room
Zach Prather & Slight Return
Born in Chicago in 1952, Zach Prather grew up listening to many of the great Blues players.
He began playing at the age of 13 and by the time he was 15, he had made his first record with Curtis
Mayfield's Label Curtom Records. During this time he had commence playing at many of the well known clubs and venues in the Chicago area.
At 17 Prather completed two years military service, after which he formed another Band and returned to the club scene.
However, it was not the local Blues players that influenced Prather then, rather the British Invasion groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Small faces and the Who.
In 1974, Prather moved to Los Angeles and began playing with another Chicago guitar player, Cash McCall. Together they performed with some of the biggest names in the Blues, including Screamin J Hawkins, Etta James and of course Willy Dixon.
"Cash and I had already become very good friends when he introduced me to Willy and in a short time we also were very close, so he, Willy, decided we should record together. Willy really liked the things I was doing, he knew people where calling it Rock 'n Roll but no one knew better then him where Rock 'n Rol came from.
During this Recording Project Willie became ill. I was with him the day before He died, i will always be grateful fore being able to meet this man and fore all he taught me about life which is the blues.
Latter while touring Europe with Screamin J Zach meet Luther Allison, after one Jam Session and some quick arrangements Zach moved to Paris where he performed with Luther fore 3 and a half years. While living in Paris, Zach made his first cd called Never My Love, with Melodie/Encore records.