Let's see, a debut album on a respected but still second-tier label by a new generation bluesman from that fabled blues center of Scranton, Pennsylvania? Tell me that don't have journeyman and formula written all over it. But the nature of the beast that is Clarence Spady's debut album is that while you can't really zoom in on any one element that makes it work, the music moves and grooves and most definitely works.
Spady is a good singer with a raspy growl that falls close to Johnny Copeland territory. As a guitarist, he's a capable yet not breathtaking soloist but genuinely funky in his rhythm comping, probably since he was playing in R&B showbands on the East Coast casino/resort circuit for most of the ‘80s. The four songs he contributed here show he's a solid songwriter, the lyrics taken from personal experience more than blues archetypes, but nothing to stamp him as a true original in that department.
What is distinctive is that the group is an organ trio (Mark Hamza supplies bass via pedals) with extra sax integrated into the group sound (Tom "T-Bone" Hamilton plays a lot more than the usual section parts and solos). Spady does have a good eye for stepping outside the usual blues repertoire for tunes by Raful Neal, Son Seals, and hard bopper Clifford Brown. Even his take on "Hi Heeled Sneakers" goes by way of Chuck Berry's "Memphis" to show off a repertoire of country licks.
In fact, the most lukewarm cuts are the basic boogie of "Built For Comfort" and the overly smoothed-out "Picture of Love" co-written by Robben Ford. But what sticks is the chicken-scratch comping and funky grooving of "Baby Baby Baby" or "A Good Fool Is Hard To Find," the ska tinge to the shuffle "Answer To The Man," or guitar-sax-organ trade-offs that are so tight on "Change My Way Of Livin'" and "Blues Walk" the players sound they're finishing off each other's lines.
You could say Spady's song choices get a little too grab-bag diverse or that Hamza's fills are a little too florid or the mix gets cluttered because Hamilton plays a little too much. But you also get the very real sensation these musicians genuinely enjoy playing with each other and feel free to toss in embellishments when they feel like it rather than just sticking to the parts. It sounds like a band playing music that matters to them more than anything, and that's what makes Nature Of The Beast work.