Paul Reddick

Sugarbird

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Producer/guitarist Colin Linden's name might not be on the front cover of Reddick's third solo release and first in four years, but he's as much a part of this disc's -- and Reddick's two previous projects -- creation as the headliner. Linden co-writes all but two tracks with Reddick, and his guitar drives the music nearly as forcefully as the singer's voice and occasional harmonica. Even though Reddick is considered a blues artist, he nimbly injects folk into the style (the acoustic finger-pinging of "Morning Bell"), '60s slow dance pop (the intriguingly titled "John Lennon in New Orleans" that even name checks "Sleepwalk" in its lyrics), Stones-styled rock ("Every Temptation") and especially oozing, swampy roots music ("If by This"). Between the various styles, his poetic lyrics, and a revolving door group of musicians (only Linden plays on every track), the set is somewhat difficult to nail down. But the partnership of Reddick's unassuming, everyman voice and Linden's innovative studio touch -- somewhat like that of Daniel Lanois -- yields a moving, emotional, and always grounded set that flows with grace and class. The bluesiest track is "Block of Wood," a tough, grimy Chicago shuffle that clatters and clunks its way through an inspired Reddick harp solo. Elsewhere, on "Breathless Girls," the duo plies a folksy Americana, somewhat like that of the Band (whose Levon Helm and Garth Hudson contribute to a few cuts) that's so southern you can almost hear the mosquitoes buzzing. Horns prime "It's Later Than You Think," an original you'd swear was an old Sinatra nugget with its swinging tempo and Vegas big-band swizzle stick groove. While the songs are a varied lot, the Reddick-Linden team's reach never exceeds its grasp. The resulting album takes interesting, even unusual twists, such as the military percussion and watery, distant vocal treatment that appears and disappears in "I Will Vanish." That makes this collection a challenging, satisfying listen that never goes in the direction you'd think. Reddick is a blues-roots artist unafraid to push boundaries while staying true the genre's deep seated honesty.

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