Looks can be deceiving. I know that’s a shock in this day and age, but there it is, one of the most universal truths out there. I mention that because at first glance you might not know what to make of Blues-Roots performer Brad Stivers. He dresses like a 1950’s Republican; clean cut in a fresh suit. His hair is slicked back in a scaled down pompadour and he looks like he might be more at home as a door-to-door salesman or a young preacher just starting out.
But when you hear him play, all that superficial crap goes out the window because this boy knows how to rock. On his sophomore album, Took You Long Enough, now available on VizzTone, he manages to unleash ten outstanding numbers, five originals and five covers that blur lines between genres and should light up audiences wherever he plays.
Stivers handles the vocals and guitars and he is joined by Odis Hill and Bobby Perkins on bass; and Nico Leophonte on drums. Special guests include Eric Przygocki on upright bass; Emily Gimble on vocals and piano for one song; Bukka Allen on B3 Organ for two songs; and Mark Wilson on saxophones. Malford Milligan adds backing vocals on one song.
The album kicks off with 2000 Miles, a hard driving original. It’s the shortest song on the disc at about 2:15 and it never stops. It’s got the energy of a punk rock song with a rockabilly sensibility. His guitar work is great and he sets up an anticipation for what’s to come.
He keeps going with the up tempo You’re Just About To Lose Your Clown, and adds some well-placed horns to give it more of a Chicago sound. His vocals are good and he manages to put some real emotion in it. Mark Wilson’s sax break is a standout.
A solid country blues shuffle starts off Put It Down. It’s another original and shows that Stivers is a fairly adept songwriter. It may be too early in his career to heap a lot of praise on him, but he shows signs of growing into being a well rounded performer. His guitar licks are solid, his band is tight, and he chooses good songs (so far) from himself and those he covers.
Next up is the title track, Took You Long Enough. It’s a funkier tune, and falls a little outside of his usual blues-roots area, but he still manages to rock out and with his killer guitar break, this one probably is a big hit when done live.
He follows up with a slower mellower song, Here We Go Again. Truthfully, I was waiting for one, just so I could catch my breath. Stivers has a lot of energy and he pours it into each song. Here, he relies more on his vocals, which take on a country flavor for the song. Emily Gimble adds her vocals and piano to the number, even adding a little boogie flavor on one exchange. Very cool song.
After letting us catch our breath, he performs a bluesier number, Nickel And A Nail. This one makes use of his core group and adds Bukka Allen on the organ. It’s tight and well done. I like this song a lot and will be playing it shortly on Time For The Blues.
Next up is One Night Of Sin, a perfect title for just about any blues or country lover. An instrumental, the song is carried pretty much by Stivers’ guitar. He reminds me a little of Santo & Johnny the way he plays. I would have to hear more than this one song and the breaks from this album to see just how good he is, but so far, he’s impressive.
Stivers follows up with the rockabilly sounds of Can’t Wait. The lyrics are pure blues, but the playing crosses more into country. The sound is stripped down; guitar, bass, drums, and while it is a good song on the disc, I really think this is one that an audience will appreciate more when it’s done live.
Love Me starts out with some interesting distortion on the guitars. It’s a heavier sound than the other songs on the album. It’s much more of a rock hybrid, mixing in some blues. It doesn’t quite work all the way for me, but it’s a judgement call. Those people who like that heavier sound will like this one a lot.
He brings the album to a close with a funky jazzy number, Cold Sweat. His second instrumental on the album leaves no doubt that Stivers is a master of the guitar. It’s obvious he is in rare company with some of the best working today, and it’s only a matter of when he gets his breakthrough moment to really make a name for himself.
Stivers is going to be one of those artists that you either get or you don’t. I’m all for experimentation. I’m drawn to artists that mix and match genres to create something new. But I also see the appeal for those potential audience members that want to stick with more traditional artists.
Unfortunately for the blues world, many of those artists are no longer with us, and many of the newer musicians playing today have a different idea of what they would like to play. Whether it’s for artistic or economic reasons, there are fewer and fewer performers who are working within the confines of straight ahead blues anymore.
I love tradition. I want to hear traditional takes on the blues, but I don’t think I’m ever going to hear it the way I have for all these years.
I hope that people will give the artists like Stivers a chance to work and evolve. He’s young, we have no idea where he’s going to end up. I’m just glad to have a chance to hear him while he’s exploring all those different avenues.
Check him out. Catch him live. The best way to find out what he’s up to is to visit his website at https://bradstivers.com/ and if you do catch him live, be sure to send me your thoughts!