Eddie Bo was a fairly major New Orleans R&B figure ("Check Mr. Popeye") in the '60s and Shoot from the Root is his return on a European label after an extended absence from recording. Think that spells comeback by a veteran going through the correct motions for reverential roots rockers? Well, better think twice, because Bo has crafted a really, really vital disc that almost shockingly makes you believe there's still some fresh life in that venerable New Orleans R&B tradition.
The title track boasts a great groove with tuba, King Floyd-style horns, and very sharp, literate Afro-centric lyrics delivered by Bo in great voice. "Groove in My Soul" just pops on all cylinders; Bo has assembled a collection of graybeard contemporaries and the whole band, especially drummer Herman Ernest, is playing hard without getting in each other's way. You can also hear it in the sharp, sophisticated horn charts and funky rhythm to "Old Fashioned Sookie" and, well, maybe the bottom line of Shoot from the Root is that these veterans sound like they're really having big-time fun playing the music. There are fine ballads ("O'Lady," "I Love You in Every Way") and "Kick It on Back" shows Bo's real knack for funny, smart James Brown-style catch phrases with organ and drums shining in the arrangement. "Will I Ever Learn?" is just a quality, punchy, compact R&B tune and Bo doesn't even bother with an intro to "Let's Get It Straight," jumping right into the verse and singing up a storm supported by nice horns and bring-it-on-home drums. Both tracks leave you saying out loud that this is a great record, that there's life in old New Orleans R&B yet; so does "Fingers," a '50s rock & roll/R&B piano instrumental with Bo tickling the ivories while backing singers chant "Go, Mr. Piano Man, go!" when the horns aren't tossing in nice lines. Yeah, there are a few loose ends, but if you care, you got no idea what serious fun is. "Every Dog's Got a Day" is equally seriously funky, with Eddie Bo singing his butt off, Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias hoarse and convincing, and the masterful Johnny Adams coming in clean and serene with a couple of finale soul screams. And Adams is in absolutely devastating form on "Bring It on Home" (an Eddie Bo blues number, not the Sam Cooke hit), with the leader cheering him on. Dollis' hoarse pleading doesn't have a prayer of following Adams' commanding singing, but know what? I can't imagine the idea of giving a good goddamn ever crossed the mind of Bo Dollis or Eddie Bo or anyone else during the session. These veteran musicians grew up playing this music because they loved it and Eddie Bo has crafted a set of challenging songs that's rekindled that spark. Hell, you can say some grooves go on a little too long and that "Dance Dance Dance" is pretty slight, but why quibble? If you like classic New Orleans R&B but figured it had long ago reached a creative dead end, Shoot from the Root is one helluva delightful surprise.