Darrell Nulisch

Times Like These

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The fact that Darrell Nulisch was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award does mean something in the blues world. Times Like These does make a person wonder why, though. While it's true that Nulisch's voice is deeply expressive and rings loud and clear in the way Joe Turner's did -- albeit much smoother in delivery -- and he's a more than adequate harp player, the material here is generic at best. This record, with its tightly arranged and conducted horn charts, muted, stylistic B-3, rounded-off lead guitar solos, and in-the-pocket drums, sounds exactly like what it is for the most part: a blues record made in New England. What passes for guttural blues here is played a bit sloppier by your local bar band. But blues isn't the only thing that Nulisch tackles here, thank goodness. It's his soul tunes, both his originals and his cover of Smokey Robinson's "Don't Look Back." Here is where Nulisch shows his gift as a singer; he moves just behind the beat, pronouncing every syllable with a smoothness that is reminiscent of Bobby "Blue" Bland and a passion that James Carr would be proud of. His reading of the Ashford & Simpson nugget "Running Out" is vocally honest and true, but the band is stilted and wooden -- had he a better backing unit, this would have been the best track on the album. His back-to-back interpretations of Ray Charles' "I Found Love" and Otis Redding's "That's a Good Idea" are emotionally true, deep-in-the-belly-of-fire readings. Even the horns come through with a raw-enough sound outside the cookie-cutter Massachusetts blues factory box. Nulisch's own tune, "Handle It With Care," feels like Johnny Rivers' "Poor Side of Town" without sounding a bit like it -- pure, honest, and full of nuance, grace, elegance, and a truth that we can use more of in this time. On this tune, the band flows behind him with a pure fluid accuracy that stays in the groove, letting it float without attempting to push a vocal that's as fine and mellow as a vintage Chianti. On his next outing, Nulisch will hopefully write more; he's extremely talented, and this song was worth the Handy nomination alone. And perhaps he should record in Detroit or Chicago, where musicians will be far more sympathetic to his considerable gifts as a true soul singer.

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