Back in 20, the title of Gary "U.S." Bonds' sixth studio album of new material in 43 years, is easily explained: 20 years have elapsed since his fifth LP, Standing in the Line of Fire, was released in 1984. Bonds has a habit of turning up in record stores every two decades or so. As a 21-year-old in 1960, he scored the first of six Top 40 hits with "New Orleans," leading to the release of his first two albums, Dance 'Til Quarter to Three and Twist Up Calypso. In 1981, at age 41, he returned under the auspices of Bruce Springsteen, who wrote, produced, and played on his comeback hit "This Little Girl" and participated in his albums Dedication and On the Line. Except for the title track, contributed by Springsteen cohort Miami Steve Van Zandt, Standing in the Line of Fire was largely the product of Bonds (whose real name is Gary Anderson) and his wife Laurie Anderson (not to be confused with the performance artist). In that sense, Back in 20 is a belated follow-up to that album, since it was largely written, produced, and even engineered by the Andersons and performed by Bonds' regular backup band, the Road House Rockers. There are some guest musicians, it is true. Springsteen contributes guitar (reminiscent of his "Darlington County") and background vocals to the lead-off song, "Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks," alongside Southside Johnny, who plays harmonica. Southside also plays harmonica on "Take Me Back," and he duets with Bonds on "Fannie Mae." Dickey Betts plays guitar on "She Just Wants to Dance" and "Bitch/Dumb Ass," the latter a duet between Bonds and Phoebe Snow. But listing all these names gives a false impression. Back in 20 is an album of barroom blues-rock by a band that clearly plays the same kind of music several times a week. Most of the songs were written by some combination of Bonds, Anderson, and guitarist Mark Leimbach, and they are all examples of traditional rock, blues-rock, and R&B styles. The listener may not have heard these particular compositions before, but the styles in which they were written and in which they are performed have been familiar for nearly 50 years. Bonds, in his mid-'60s, has the same gruff, exciting voice he always did, and he stands at the center of the band, playing off the saxophones, guitars, and drums. There are no great classics here to make this a required purchase, but these are songs that no doubt sound fine interspersed with "Quarter to Three" and "This Little Girl" in Bonds' club dates.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: Southside Johnny
feat: Dickey Betts