Steve Hunter, with Joe Satriani, Joe Perry, Tony Levin and others – Manhattan Blues Project (2013)

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Best known for work with Lou Reed and Alice Cooper, Steve Hunter has fashioned an album that transcends its own title. You come in expecting a set of gut-bucket, soul-lifting grooves, but you get that and so much more.

Hunter, whose fan-funded fifth solo project was issued by Deacon Records, opens The Manhattan Blues Project with something that’s not a blues at all. Instead, “Prelude to the Blues” unfolds like a ruminative exploration — this dreamscape journey that heralds an album which references age-old Delta cadences without settling into shotgun-shack cliché.

This is blues for a different era, blues that has absorbed everything which has come after. That means Hunter dabbles in swirling vocals and enveloping strings (as on the George Harrison-esque “Gramercy Park” and “Flames at the Dakota”), as well as scalding down-home wails (“222 W. 23rd”; “The Brooklyn Shuffle,” with solos by Hunter, Johnny Depp and then Joe Perry of Aerosmith; and “Twilight in Harlem,” with Joe Satriani and Marty Friedman) and sinewy old-time reminiscences (“A Night at the Waldorf”).

One of the album’s most offbeat, yet perfectly attenuated moments arrives courtesy of a reunion between Hunter and bassist Tony Levin on “Solsbury Hill.” Both played on the original 1977 sessions with Peter Gabriel, but quickly free themselves from the track’s familiar pastoral charms — ramping up into a jazz-inflected, completely approachable groove.

Hunter doesn’t squeeze quite as much out of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” the only other cover on Manhattan Blues Project, but that’s probably more to do with the definitive nature of Gaye’s original.

The dark and soulful “Ground Zero” quickly rights things, however, as Hunter plumbs the depths of some devastating emotions. Levin returns for the closing “Sunset in Central Park,” a sun-filled passage out of an album that pushes and pulls on the blues legacy — engaging with it as often as it seeks to expand it — in the most intriguing of ways.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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