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South Shore

WFS Music

11 songs/46:00

Billy Seward South Shore CD cover

by Greg Easterling

The city of Chicago and its blues legacy casts a wide net over the entire Midwest that has gathered in aspiring musicians from Madison, Wisconsin all the way to Muncie, Indiana. The Mad City contingent originally descended on the Windy City in the mid 1960s led by Steve Miller, whose early bands included Boz Scaggs and Ben Sidran. At least a decade later, young Billy Seward of Muncie also felt the pull of the Chicago blues scene once populated by West Side mainstays Otis Rush, Fenton Robinson and Magic Sam. Chicago soul music of the 60s and 70s was also a formidable influence on Seward in the person of Chi-Town chart toppers Tyrone Davis, Syl Johnson, Johnny Taylor and Curtis Mayfield.


Both musical strands, blues and soul, are obvious in the sound of Seward’s original songs and choice of covers on his most recent self-released album, South Shore. Now living in Sarasota, Florida, Seward returned to Delmark Records’ Riverside Studio in Chicago to record his first CD since 2011’s Better Place.


Seward employed the talents of the Delmark team, producer Dave Specter and engineer Steve Wagner to help him craft South Shore. The longtime core of Specter’s bands -- Brother John Kattke on keyboards, bassist Harlan Terson and Marty Binder on drums -- provide sympathetic accompaniement augmented by the acclaimed horn section of Willie Henderson (baritone sax), Doug Corcoran (trumpet) and Steve Eisen (tenor sax).


Seward sings and plays guitar quite well on South Shore, pulling together an attractive mix of originals and covers. At times, Seward’s voice and vocal mannerisms are reminiscent of Boz Scaggs (whose similar Chi-town influences are forever displayed in Scaggs’ early cover of the Fenton Robinson classic, “Loan Me A Dime” with Duane Allman on guitar). The vocal resemblance is uncanny, but obviously not unappealing, throughout this very likeable collection that will impress you more with each playing.


South Shore kicks off with “The Hawk”, Seward’s song about the Chicago wind off Lake Michigan that chills us every winter. Lou Rawls defined The Hawk in his legendary Southside Blues monologue intro to “Tobacco Road” and Seward picks it up here. “The Hawk is back in Chicago and it’s got me on the run” allowing that “all my friends left for Florida chasing the sun.” Musically, “The Hawk” is a strong album opener that showcases the horn section of Henderson, Corcoran and Eisen with a nice arrangement by Dave Specter and John Kattke. Seward provides a lyrical guitar solo followed by Kattke’s solo turn on organ. It’s a pattern that is played out on any number of the album’s eleven tracks and a formula that works.


Seward’s Windy City fixation continues with the next song, “Chicago Woman.” He sings, “You got me wrapped around your finger/you got the whole world at your feet.” Harp player Tom Moore joins in with the horns here and solos later in the song. And there’s another stellar chart for this track executed flawlessly by these outstanding horn players.


“Strange How I Miss You” features an appearance by Chicago blues legend Jimmy Johnson who once recorded it. Johnson shares the lead vocals with Seward followed by noteworthy solos by guitarist Specter, Eisen on tenor sax and Kattke on keys.


Seward name checks Chicago area transit next on the title track, “South Shore.” For him, it’s a metaphor for a passage into the Chicago blues experience and back again. Seward sings, “ Left my home…/thought I would find fame and fortune/I’m standing here wondering if it could ever be the same.” “South Shore” is yet another track that benefits from great horn charts and ensemble play by Kattke, Terson and Binder.


“I Hear the Love Chimes” is a Memphis song once recorded by Syl Johnson and begins a string of soulful covers by Seward which also includes “Love  Ain’t Nothing But A Business Goin’ On” (Junior Parker) and “I Can’t Take It” (Don Bryant). All of them are songs that harken back to the Hi Rhythm machine in Memphis that produced Al Green most famously and Seward handles them well here.


Then it’s back to Seward’s original songs with more horns for the rest of the album. “Westside Ride” invokes the memory of the West Side blues sound with a title (and groove) similar to producer Specter’s own “Westside Stroll.” Dave returns to solo on “Take It All” and Seward takes care of business on guitar on the album’s final two tracks, “Thinking About You” and “Blues Don’t Bother Me”.


It’s a shame that Seward is seldom heard performing in Chicago, the city that has been a major influence on his music. But at least in South Shore he has recorded a solid album that will always reflect these key influences and Seward’s first love musically. His choice of Delmark’s Riverside Studio and Dave Specter to record South Shore was an inspired choice that Seward will never regret.

For info:

Greg Easterling holds down the 12 midnight – 5 a.m. shift on WDRV (97.1 FM) He also hosts American Backroads on WDCB (90.9 FM) Thursdays at 9 p.m.


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