Normally, when I write these, I try to listen to the album first then read the notes sent to me by the label, publicist, or artist to learn a little backstory for the introduction. For today’s review, however, I want to shake things up and give you my first impression of the artist and album.
So, when I reached my hand into my overflowing collection of music, I pulled out What My Eyes Have Seen by the artist John Blues Boyd. I’m not familiar with Boyd, but as the album is released through Gulf Coast Records, I have high hopes for it. It’s a relatively new album started by Mike Zito and Guy Hale.
A couple of powerhouses who have really been turning out great work. Opening up the flap, I see Chris “Kid’ Andersen’s name everywhere – another good sign. I’m starting to get excited about this. I see a number of names I recognize from other albums, including Jim Pugh on keys and Nancy Wright on sax.
On the cover, it’s obvious that Boyd is just another young punk trying to make it in the get rich quick blues industry. Must have been the lure of easy fortune and fame. Boyd looks like a well seasoned artist, and I’ve had a lot of luck with people who have lived a long life and have some perspective on things.
Let’s see how this goes…
Kid Andersen’s sweet guitar announces the opening song, In My Blood. It’s a biography song for Boyd and should get plenty of airplay. This will kick off a show for Time For The Blues just as soon as I can play it. Boyd’s voice is wise with experience but is not jaded or world weary. It’s a refreshing take on the blues.
After that, Boyd takes a minute (1:11 actually) to reach back into his life with a story. He calls it My Memory Takes Me There. Accompanied by Kid Andersen on guitar and organ, I believe this one serves as a set up for the remaining four.
Next up is the title track, What My Eyes Have Seen, a meditative take and soulful look back on some of his experiences over the years. “I’ve been with you in the shadows,” he sings at one point, underlying the changes he has born witness to over the years. I really like this one a lot.
The next song, I Heard The Blues, also uses the past tense as he looks back. It seems obvious that Boyd has a lot to share if we will only listen. It’s lovely and sweet with a touch of gospel organ. It’s another song that I really enjoy and I can see why Boyd has been nominated for a Blues Music Award. This is the first song on the album written by Boyd. He honestly conveys the way the music made him feel. Too many times those of us who only write about music, as opposed to living it, tend to talk from our heads rather than our hearts. Myself included. This one gets into your soul and reminds you why you got into music in the first place.
Boyd and friends transition into On The Run. This is a swinging number that Boyd co-wrote with Andersen and Hale. It is a quick musical lesson that reminds us where the sparks of the Civil Rights Movement became a roaring flame. The powerful lyrics set against the lively music makes for quite the contrast and catches our attention right away.
My Memory Takes Me There Pt 2 is a melancholy moment, a snatch of lyric in which Boyd describes that will he was often mistreated, there were others who appreciated him and his memory is absolutely clear of the events that happened to him.
After that comes Her Name Was Dona Mae. The spoken introduction brings up the “best thing that ever happened to John Blues Boyd.” This is an homage to his late wife, and his voice conveys the great affection he still has for her. With so many blues songs highlighting the roughest patches of life, it’s refreshing to hear a song about a love that transcends time and distance. Got to love the horn section weaving in and out of the song.
His next My Memory Takes Me There, (Part 3) takes a serious tone. He remembers that “some are gone and some are forgotten” and he’s “sad that some are still here.” I like these short connecting pieces, but after I finish this review, I plan on programming my disc player to play only these short pieces and see what kind of a full song they might make.
Dealing with the horrible 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, Why Did You Take That Shot? uses simple rhymes to relive the tragedy. Boyd asks the question over and over looking for reasons, and he even leaves the door open that it might not have actually been James Earl Ray who fired the fatal shot. The organ brings in a little church feel to the proceedings and once again Boyd captures the feeling of those times. Listening to the song for the first time, my stomach dropped and I remember then tension and violence that erupted after the assassination.
Next up is My Memory Takes Me There Pt 4, and it starts off with the low building fervor of a preacher in his pulpit. This album has been a revelation, Boyd has been kicking around the blues for a long time, and none of his previous albums have crossed my path. His voice is incredible: rich, vibrant, and stunning in his approach. His vocals command attention and his delivery is among the best I’ve ever heard. I would stack up this album with the best of any performer from any era and it would stand up well. There are five more tracks on What My Eyes Have Seen, and unless they drop off in quality mightily, this will easily be on my Best Of 2020 list.
He follows with the story of his coming to the West Coast in Oh, California. He’s talked about his having to leave home in 1963, his marriage, his feelings from some of the events in his life, and now he brings us to sunny California. The song is light and fun and a whole different approach to the blues.
Next up is the bouncy, swinging That Singing Roofer, about his day job while getting himself established. You can feel the shift in attitude in his approach. It’s an amazing musical autobiography. Putting on my theatre critic hat, I would absolutely love to see this get developed into a play incorporating the music in with some stories. It would be killer!
Things slow down for the next song, Forty Nine Years. You can feel the time passing as he tells the story of his life with his wife. The mournful sax, the light percussion, and the keyboards make for a beautiful collaboration. Boyd’s voice is full of emotion as he recounts those days. It just might make you well up a little bit as well.
Time to get a little funky with I Got To Leave My Mark. Nearly every human wants to leave an indelible mark on their world. This album is Boyd’s mark, and it’s chiseled in stone. That voice, that story, one doesn’t just sing the blues, one has to live them and John Blues Boyd has certainly done that!
Appropriately enough, the album ends with the last My Memory Takes Me There Pt 5. With a sparse musical background, somewhat reminiscent of portions of The Doors’ The End but without the buildup, the song finally gives Boyd a chance to rest from his labors. It’s a gorgeous coda to this amazing album!
Okay, if you’ve read this far, is there anything else I need to say? John Blues Boyd is a great treasure and his name should be on every blues lover’s lips. His voice is exquisite and Kid Andersen has produced a beautiful album what will only grow over time. No, it doesn’t have a whole bunch of quickly manufactured songs that sound like every other formula song – each song has its own soul, its own life, and by listening to these songs, we all become a part of his life.
Don’t hesitate, order your copy of What My Eyes Have Seen now. Stores, Online services, or heck, just go right to the people who made it, Gulf Coast Records. You can findtheir website here.
While you’re at it, if you find any of the albums below, grab ‘em up, because I’m looking for them too!
Previous Albums by John Blues Boyd
Sing A Happy Song
The Real Deal
John, The Blues Is Calling You
Can’t See The Forest For The Trees
Born To Sing The Blues