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CD REVIEW -- Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio


Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here

Alligator Records

Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio CD smells funky

By Robin Zimmerman

That old rapscallion, Elvin Bishop, is back in action. Hot on the heels of his 2017 Grammy-nominated Big Fun Trio, he’s gathered his cronies, Willy Jordan and Bob Welsh for another rollicking Alligator release that runs the gamut from well-crafted covers to hard-hitting social commentary delivered with Bishop’s trademark biting wit and great guitar licks.

Bishop is often associated with his 1975 hit, “Fooled around and Fell in Love” —especially after it was prominently featured on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. But Bishop is much more than a one-hit wonder and his musical resume speaks for itself.

The 75-year old Bishop bounced around during his formative years. He was born in California and then moved to Iowa before the family settled in Oklahoma when he was 10. Here, he attended Will Rogers High School and received a full ride to study Physics at the University of Chicago as a National Merit Scholar. 

Bishop was already clued into Chicago’s burgeoning blues scene after a steady diet of listening to late-night R & B stations. Bishop blew into the Windy City at just the right time. It wasn’t long until he met up with Paul Butterfield and launched his career as an in-demand blues guitarist.

Whether it was his extended version of “Turn on Your Love Light” with the Grateful Dead or jamming with the Allman Brothers and others, Bishop boasts some very impressive musical credentials. This was punctuated by his 2015 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as well as a slew of Grammy nods and other industry accolades.

Despite all this recognition, Bishop’s still having way too much fun and it looks as if he won’t be walking off into the sunset any time soon. It’s obvious that this cat really enjoys what he’s doing, and his aptly-named band reflects a razor-sharp take on life.  

This is the second Alligator release for the Big Fun Trio (although Bishop has recorded a number of albums on the label over the years). They scored a Grammy nomination for their first endeavor Big Fun Trio and the band’s back at it on Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here.

This band has toured extensively since the release of that first album early in 2017. They’ve loosened up on a personal level but are much tighter in terms of musicianship and mastery of many of the songs featured on this sophomore effort.

          As on the first Big Fun Trio release, Welsh’s wizardry shines through on piano, organ and guitar while Jordan brings along his vocal talents and considerable skills on the Cajon --- a Peruvian drum instrument that rounds out every track with its multi-faceted sounds.

The Big Fun Trio makes a statement right out of the gate. The title track “Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here” is a pseudo-State of the Union address that takes plenty of pot shots at the present administration. With lines like “I believe we got stuck with a lemon” and “funky like some old rotten politician,” Bishop hammers every point home with his signature “aw shucks” spoken word delivery.

After cluing listeners into their political woes, the fun is back on the next track, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” On this Jackie Wilson remake, Jordan takes on vocal duties with a falsetto that would do the original artist proud.  

“Right Now is the Hour” is one of Bishop’s tunes from the vault. On this reworking of his 1978 composition from The Skin I’m In, he reflects on mortality and advises listeners that “Father Time is closing in” so just stay in the moment and enjoy life.

The band settles into slow groove mode with the classic tale of infidelity on “Another Mule.” This tune was penned by Dave Bartholomew and covered by a legion of big-name blues artists, but the Big Fun Trio confidently puts their own indelible stamp on this old chestnut.

On “That’s the Way Willy Likes It,” it’s back to the basic guitar-driven funky beat that Bishop’s been doing for decades. After hitting all the high notes on the Jackie Wilson cover, Jordan demonstrates his impressive vocal range with a deeper, soulful delivery.

Bob Welsh is spotlighted on the aptly named “Bob’s Boogie.”  Here, he showcases the ivory-tickling skills that have enhanced the sounds of everyone from James Cotton and Charlie Musselwhite to Billy Boy Arnold and others. This Louisiana native clearly loves to have a good time and it’s apparent on this self-penned instrumental.

Big Fun circles back to the seventies with a great remake of Ann Peebles’ 1973 hit, “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”  On this number, lead vocalist Jordan channels Al Green on their homage to the golden age of soul music. Welsh skillfully segues over to the organ on this track.

Bishop’s “Stomp” has been an audience favorite dating back to his early years. He brings it back here in all its country-flavored, toe-tapping, slide-heavy, crowd-pleasing glory.

Bishop doesn’t make any bones about his age or gray hair either. On the next track, “Lookin’ Good,” he tackles the subject of growing old and how “lookin’ good” could represent the end-of-the line for many. But Bishop takes a glass half-full acceptance of this life stage because it sure beats the alternative!

The fun and satisfying romp through a mélange of musical styles comes to a rousing, Cajun-flavored conclusion as the band covers Clifton Chenier’s “My Soul.” Jordan provides yet another stellar vocal turn on this number with Andre Thierry’s jaunty accordion adding an extra dash of bayou seasoning to the mix. 

Whether it’s mixing up musical styles to keep listener burnout at bay or simply laying out some irresistible lyrical hooks, “Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here” offers conclusive proof that the Big Fun Trio is living up to their name in a big way.  

Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here was produced by Bishop and recording engineer Steve Savage. It was recorded at Bishop’s “Hog Heaven” studios in Lagunitas, California.


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