Toni Price

Midnight Pumpkin

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As a blues and R&B singer, Toni Price has no peers. Only Bonnie Raitt and Sue Foley -- both guitar players of considerable merit -- can approach the emotion Price can dig from a song, and of the two only Raitt has the same confidence with the material. Here, she is surrounded by her stalwart band and a host of friends who make up the elite studio crew of Austin, TX, including fiddler Champ Hood; guitarists Derek O'Brien, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, and Casper Rawls; bassist Frosty Smith; drummer Michael Duffy; David Grissom; and string king James Burton; as well as Tommy Shannon from Double Trouble and Jon Dee Graham. There are percussionists and a horn section and the whole damn thing shimmers with grace. Price delivers her songs without the reaching wail of her earlier records because she doesn't need to; she's a more nuanced vocalist, allowing the song to dictate to her what it needs. And what a collection of songs! There's the stomping bluegrass of Shelley King's "Call of My Heart," the smoky, tender artistry of Gwil Owen's "Something in the Water," the bluesy soul of "Work on It" and "Start of Something Good," and the Okie blues of J.J. Cale's "Like You Used To." Price also digs into her considerable early swing chops on the standard "Right Kind of Man," and duets with Malford Milligan on what should now be the watermark for Joe Tex's "I Want to Do Everything for You"; its original raw soul and barely restrained heat smolders between the singers. As if that weren't enough, there's a gospel quartet version of the late Blaze Foley's "Darlin'" and Gwil Owen and David Olney's swampy R&B torch stomp "Measure for Measure." From a lesser singer, this record would be a mess, a hodgepodge of rootless styles and wasted ambition. But in the heart and voice of Price -- via the production aesthetic of O'Brien and herself -- these songs all segue into one another, dovetailing seamlessly into a portrait of original raw soul. Lyrics and harmonies drip from Price's honeyed mouth like fine whiskey and cut a silhouette of her profile in the heart of the blues. One listen to Midnight Pumpkin and you'll never be the same.

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