Once again working with producer/songwriter Tom Hambridge -- the bluesman's main collaborator since 2008's Skin Deep -- Buddy Guy serves up a straight-ahead platter with Born to Play Guitar, his 28th studio album. Many of Guy's latter-day records loosely follow a theme, but Born to Play Guitar is pretty direct: just a collection of songs designed to showcase Buddy's oversized Stratocaster. Which isn't to say there's either a lack of variety or pro forma songwriting here. Hambridge cleverly colors Born to Play Guitar with a few bold, unexpected flourishes: the sweeps of sweet strings that accentuate "(Baby) You've Got What It Takes," a duet with Joss Stone that lightly recalls Etta James' Chess Records work; the big, blaring horns of "Thick Like Mississippi Mud" that moves that track out of the Delta and into an urban setting; the acoustic "Come Back Muddy" which performs that trick in reverse, pushing Chicago blues back down south. Elsewhere, Van Morrison contributes a moving tribute to B.B. King in "Flesh and Bone," a heartfelt ballad that doesn't quite fit with the rest of the record because it's about song, not feel -- a nice anomaly on a record whose greater concern is juke joint boogie. Guy delivers on this front quite ably, particularly when he's paired with fellow blues lifer Kim Wilson (as he is on "Too Late" and "Kiss Me Quick") or when Billy Gibbons slithers out of the Texas hills to lay down the heavy stomp of "Wear You Out," and while there are no surprises on these duets, nor on the proudly traditional Chicago blues of "Born to Play Guitar," "Back Up Mama," and "Whiskey, Beer & Wine," there is still pleasure in hearing a master tear into his beloved music.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Van Morrison