"Paid my dues," repeats Guitar Shorty on "Old School," the opening track to his 2004 release, and that's no exaggeration. Although only his sixth album in a career that stretches back to the mid-'50s, Shorty, born David William Kearney, has been electrifying audiences with his guitar pyrotechnics (think Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan) and on-stage gymnastics (think Nils Lofgren) since before Hendrix was sneaking into clubs to catch his act. But as he says in "Story of My Life," it's been a series of "tough breaks and bad decisions" before he has finally landed a high-profile shot at more visibility on Alligator, the foremost blues indie imprint. He meets the challenge with his most fiery and gutsy album yet, a tough and uncompromising slab of steely playing, no-nonsense singing, and solid songs. He's always been a gruff, fat-toned guitarist, but with no-frills production by pianist Jesse Harms (who also wrote and co-wrote five tunes), Shorty rips into these ten tracks sounding like he's young, hungry, and ready to explode. He machine guns into Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation" and Van Morrison's "I've Been Working" with an energy and intensity that nearly beat the originals, steamrolling through the solos like a major-league slugger swinging for the fences. The charging Bo Diddley beat of "Let My Guitar Do the Talking" places Shorty's style in that perfect combination of blues and rock, making it one of the album's most successful cuts. Between Shorty's sinewy guitar and a batch of blazing songs perfectly tailored to his rowdy approach, there isn't a weak track here. That makes Watch Your Back a welcome return for old fans and a perfect introduction for those new to Shorty's long career.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz