Bare Knuckle

Bare Knuckle

Contemporary blues is a bit of a wasteland, yet those chanting the “blues is dead” mantra should check out Guitar Shorty . Though his time in the state was brief, the seventy-year-old Houston-born, Florida-raised guitarist and singer (real name: David Kearney) was an early proponent of the kind of explosive, gritty Texas blues rock later championed by Stevie Ray Vaughan—and he’s only gotten better with age. Shorty recorded his first single at seventeen and played with Ray Charles, Guitar Slim, and Sam Cooke, all before he turned twenty. Once he moved west (first Seattle, then Los Angeles), his overheated style began to gel, and he dazzled audiences, including his future brother-in-law, a young Army recruit named Jimi Hendrix (who was also impressed by Shorty’s onstage acrobatics—“He told me the reason he started setting his guitar on fire was because he couldn’t do the backflips like I did,” Shorty says). Yet his recordings remained sporadic until the nineties, keeping him off the national radar. Bare Knuckle (Alligator), his tenth album, won’t surprise his fans, but it just might land him some new ones. Shorty claws weird, incendiary riffs—no two alike—from his strings and sprays them into every empty space, while his brassy voice (think Big Joe Turner) cuts through a muscular rock-funk foundation. The sound alone is enough to transcend present-day blues clichés, but the songs—tough, funny, hungry—also hold up. “Please, Mr. President,” he wails in the opener, “lay some stimulus on me.”

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