Bluesman Curtis Salgado, over a career that’s included stops with Robert Cray, Roomful of Blues and Santana, has always had an abiding love for R&B, hard soul and nasty funk. Soul Shot brings all of that together, in what turns out to be his best solo effort yet.
Look no further than the opener, an ass-shaking Bobby Womack composition called “What You Gonna Do?” You’ll find Salgado howling with all of the emotional abandon and sexual tension of great shouters like Otis Redding, O.V. Wright and Wilson Pickett.
I take that back: Look no further than his cover of Parliament’s “Getting to Know You,” a muscular moment of funk that may be Salgado’s most grainy, unguarded vocal turn on Soul Shot: When he moves into the upper register of his range, there is just a shattering vulnerability — a feeling only underscored later by his elegantly understated, smoke-filled harmonica solo. Or, look no further than the Stax-ish wail of “Nobody But You,” or the rumbling carnal bravado — right down to the familiar stuh-stuh-stutter made famous by its original composer — found on Redding’s foot-stamping “Love Man.”
You get the idea. This thing is cooking with grease.
But what about fans of a more straight-ahead style? Salgado doesn’t completely confound expectations: Tracks like his own “Love Comfort Zone” and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Strung Out” settle into a soul-soaked groove that powered the careers of next-generation successors to the urban blues throne like Little Milton and Johnny Taylor. There is a brutal honesty about love gone (and love gone wrong) on “She Didn’t Cut Me Loose,” and a too-cool sense of front-porch storytelling on “He Played His Harmonica,” both of them smart Salgado originals.
Still, the heart of this album, and its greatest triumph, can be found in Salgado’s tangy experiments with combining his core blues inclinations with deep-fried R&B grooves. “Baby, Let Me Take You In My Arms,” the old Detroit Emeralds’ track, has a shambling rhythm that couldn’t have less to do with the Delta. Instead, Salgado unleashes a darkly pleading vocal over a series of keening horn blasts — only to ascend once again, inside the chorus, toward this honey-roasted coo that cashes every check Al Green ever wrote.
“A Woman or the Blues” ends Soul Shot perhaps in the only way that Salgado could, with a gauntlet-tossing, testifying gumbo of roots music goodness. It’s a little bit blues, a little bit soul, a little bit of gospel and — like the whole of this Alligator Records debut for Salgado, due on April 10 — a whole lot of fun.