Blues Bytes | Graham Clarke | Sweet Soul Oct 2015
Since her last album, 2010’s Tell It Like It Is, singer/songwriter Deb Callahan became a mother to her now 4-year-old son Elijah. This experience brought about a change in focus in her life and on her career. Callahan’s latest release is Sweet Soul (Blue Pearl Records), and her songwriting, she co-wrote eight of the 13 tracks, reflects her current state and outlook on life. Callahan traveled to Los Angeles with guitarist Allen James and recorded this excellent disc with an elite group of veteran musicians which included Tony Braunagel (drums/production), Johnny Lee Schell (slide guitar/engineering), Reggie McBride (bass), Mike Finnigan (keys), and Jimmy Powers (harmonica).
No album was more appropriately titled. Sweet Soul perfectly describes the vocal charms of Ms. Callahan. She shines on original tracks like the funky strutter “Big Love” that opens the disc, and is appropriately sassy on “I Keep Things Running.” “Shackin’ Up” is a rocker with some sharp slide work from Schell, and “I Am Family” is a strong ballad with background vocals from Teresa James.
“Born To Love You” is a crisp soul burner and one of the standout tracks on the disc, with some of the others including “Seven States Away,” which has an almost country feel, and “Step Back,” a great foray into southern soul territory. However, Callahan saves her best for the gripping slow blues “Slow as Molasses, Sweet as Honey,” pouring every ounce of her being into this performance (great guitar/keyboard interplay between James and Finnigan, too).
Callahan also includes five dandy covers, too. There’s a groovy redo of Candi Staton’s “Sweet Feeling,” along with a moody reading of Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” and David Egan and Buddy Flett’s future soul classic “You Don’t Know Your Mind.” Callahan acquits herself quite well on the Ike & Tina classic “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby,” and gets deep into the funk on Dr. John’s “I Been Hoodooed.”
Callahan dedicated the album to her son, and blues fans should be grateful for his inspiration to his mother. Sweet Soul is an entertaining journey in the blues and soul world from one of the best contemporary vocalist in either genre.