Eric Lindell "Gulf Coast Highway" Album Review

"Gulf Coast Highway"

Part One

 

Deep inside Eric Lindell is the heart of a surfer dude and skate punk.

Just look at the cover of his third Alligator Records release, Gulf Coast Highway.

There you see images of a van, a surfboard, a skateboard and a stirring sunset over a beautiful strip of beach.

But also deep inside Eric Lindell is the heart of a slightly-off-center soul singer, like Shuggie Otis, or perhaps a more edgy Sam Moore.

Again, back to the cover of his latest CD, where beside the images of vans, surfboards and sunsets, you also find a resonator guitar glistening beside the palm trees.

That is what Eric Lindell is made of.

Lindell is something of a cult artist that is slowly but surely working his way onto the radar of blues and soul lovers all across the globe.

Kind of odd for a youngster brought up in San Mateo, Calif., and weaned on the California skate punk sounds of groups like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, isn’t it?

But a move to New Orleans in 1999 totally changed Lindell’s direction. Once there, the singer/songwriter/guitarist fell under the Crescent City’s spell and instead of power chords, he began playing slide and finger picking, all while his voice was trying to find its own niche.

And boy, did it ever find its niche. It’s kind of like a melting pot of east coast energy and gulf coast cool.

Reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen or Southside Johnny, while at the same time echoing Delbert McClinton or Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lindell has been described as “blue-eyed soul.”

And that’s a fair assessment.

His voice is raspy and charcoal-filtered, but yet smooth and rounded-off at the edges. And it’s also stoked with plenty of emotion.

That special combination must have been what led Alligator Records’ founder Bruce Iglauer to ink Lindell to his first big-time record deal three years ago.

Lindell wasted little time after hooking up with the Chicago-based Alligator Records and he released Change in the Weather in 2006, followed by 2008’s Low on Cash, Rich in Love.

"Eric Lindell Live"

Part Two

Both were filled with a blend of blues, soul, New Orleans funk and even a splash of sunny reggae, and Gulf Coast Highway is no exception to the path Lindell has charted. And both found a willing home with lovers of traditional roots music.

The only drawback to this, however, is the sense that we’ve heard all this before.

None of the 15 tunes on Gulf Coast Highway really break away and establish any new ground that Lindell’s first two Alligator releases didn’t already cover.

To further this predicament, the first half of Gulf Coast Highway kind of all runs together, with one tune struggling to separate itself from the sameness of the one before and the after it.

But that doesn’t mean that all is lost on Gulf Coast Highway.

Things begin to clarify a bit when the disc hits its mid-way point.

This starts with a really cool version of Waylon & Willie’s “I Can Get off on You.”

Instead of a straight-forward reading of the classic outlaw country duo’s tune, Lindell jukes it up by injecting a Creole-styled second line rhythm to the song, taking it from the plains to the islands, if you will.

Horns blazing, funky guitar and keys and Lindell crooning, “Take back the weed, take back the cocaine, baby. I don’t need ‘em now, your love was all I was after. I’ll make it by, I can get off on you.” The tune really pulls the album out of its doldrums.

And while not exactly an “outlaw,” Buck Owens is every bit a legend like Waylon & Willie, and Lindell dives into the Bakersfield bag for Owens’ “Crying Time.” Punchy horns help give the track a rolling R&B sound.

Seeing how Lindell sings, and also to a degree writes, like Delbert McClinton, it seems only right that he should cover one of McClinton’s songs on Gulf Coast Highway.

And Lindell chose a good one.

“Here Come the Blues Again,” is a low-key shuffler that Lindell goes to town on. You can almost see the hope on his face as he sings, “maybe I’ll be better in a day or two.”

The disc closer, “Raw Doggin’” is a groovy instrumental that sounds like it could have been an outtake from a recent Galactic session.

But with Galactic’s rhythm section, drummer Stanton Moore and bass player Robert Mercurio, on board to help Lindell with Gulf Coast Highway, that makes perfect since.

Three albums into his career, Eric Lindell has shown that he’s no flash-in-the-pan.

And if he keeps finding a groove like he struck on the last half of Gulf Coast Highway, Lindell may prove that the heart of a sufer dude and skate punk is just what modern soul music needs these days.

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