Guy grew up in Memphis. What the hell else was he going to do with his life? Charlie Wood just passed 50, which is a good time for a soul-blues voice. His seventh album is a stonker and Stay With Me is the male vocal performance of the year, delivered with equal parts of authority and yearning.
By the kind of happy coincidence that wins me ribald jeers in One Sweet Letter, I got Charlie’s promo on the day I was teaching a graduate class on Lionel Trilling’s Sincerity And Authenticity. I know, I know. Trilling doesn’t really define either concept, but concedes that in its modern sense, authenticity is “staying true to one’s self” rather than to some e(x)ternally defined code, order or tradition. I’ve no idea how “authentic” is Wood’s take on the blues and R&B tradition, but it’s absolutely true to itself. As the young people say, he owns it.
He doesn’t let you forget where this all comes from. To Memphis, With Love (and that comma somehow confirms the quality of the man!) is quickly followed by the Bobby “Blue” Bland-associated Members Only, which is a reminder that Bobby came out of Barretville, TN, with that great heartland voice and melting-pot stylistic that blends folk, country, blues and jazz with absolute ease. Wood does great things with Howling Wolf’s Killing Floor and Otis Redding’s These Arms Of Mine, and it’s here that you realise, a little belatedly, how subtle is his sense of time and phrasing, akin to Kurt Elling’s. He really does put the commas in the right places.
The originals are mostly grouped at the beginning of the set. With the Bee Gees song, it moves over largely to covers, but utterly remade and personalised. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is a reminder of how heartbreaking a songwriter Robin Gibb was. Makes me want to hear Charlie’s take on Another Lonely Night In New York or Love Just Goes.
The band’s in great shape. The horns shout encouragement on the title track, and there’s plenty of tasty guitar, but Charlie’s organ and piano are the main support. Only one quibble: those damned fade-outs – performances as good as these deserve to be brought to a proper close.