Friends of the Blues 2
By Ray Chelstowski
April Wine was a hard rocking outfit known for big guitars and soaring vocals. In the late '70s and early '80s this Canadian outfit was considered musically aligned with bands like Triumph and Chilliwack for good reason. Their biggest hits were locomotives that raced along with titles like “I Like to Rock” and “Roller.” Even when they slowed things down with ballads like “Just Between You and Me,” the music remained drenched in testosterone. Leading April Wine through this journey was Myles Goodwyn, a talented musician who was as skilled at keyboards as he was on guitar. As the main songwriter and lead singer Goodwyn was the personification of a front man, with Robert Plant-like good looks and the vocal capacity of a mountain lion. They ended up selling over 20 million records, opening for acts like The Rolling Stones, Nazareth, Rush, Styx and winning a host of important musical awards in Canada. Their legacy may not be as well-known as the bands they opened for but their output was solid and was on par with anything released in that rock lane at that time.
That’s why it’s so surprising to see Goodwyn double down on the blues. Following Myles Goodwyn and Friends of the Blues (that won a Juno nomination for Blues Recording of the Year) comes Friends of the Blues 2. Gone on this record is any of the bite that his rock records made the center of every song. The production is pristine, slick and precise. The best blues plays a bit looser with the rules, where things tend to drip over the edges a bit. While he is joined by some of Canada’s best regarded blues musicians, their contributions don’t always lift the album to where it belongs. On tracks like “Daddy Needs New Shoes” there is some rock-rooted guitar work by Jack Semple that’s real tasty, and the piano throughout the record is first-rate boogie woogie. It’s just not enough to offset the candied background vocals that just sand down these songs. There’s nothing blue in these blues.
There are, however, two real standouts. The first is Goodwyn’s take on the classic Bobby Womack song “All Over Now.” Myles taps the breaks on the tempo and pulls things down to a blues crawl; it’s got atmosphere and style. The other is the guest vocal turn by Angel Forrest on “Being Good.” Her voice has depth, body, soul and terrific character. It’s through this one song that the hole in the overall boat is to be found. On “Being Good” you are drawn to the vocals and your focus remains there. If you choose to look beyond, there’s a sexy sax and more. Goodwyn’s vocals had always done the same when applied to rock. The record could have benefitted from more from him there and less from the bold-faced names that showed to help prop thing up. Goodwyn deserves to be the star of this show. Here’s to hoping he is on Friends of the Blues 3.