Jeff Golub with Brian Auger – Train Keeps A Rolling (2013)

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June, 2011 was a bittersweet time for Jeff Golub. He had released The Three Kings that month, a blues-themed record that won this successful crossover jazz guitarist wide acclaim for a committed foray into rootsier music. This was also the month that a collapsed optic nerve robbed Golub of his eyesight and at fifty-six years old, the sideman to everyone from Tina Turner and John Waite to Dar Williams and Rod Stewart suddenly became blind.

Golub didn’t let something like a lack of optical vision get in his way, and Train Keeps A Rolling signals to the world that despite some recent personal setbacks his musical career will, thankfully, keep rolling right along.

As his prior two records saluted the blues, Train bridges his pop jazz past with his more recent blues bent, and enlists the help of British jazz-rock pioneer Brian Auger to help reconcile all three styles while maintaining an organic edge. Original Brian Auger Oblivion Express drummer Steve Ferrone came along, too, and for a handful of tunes, so did original vocalist Alex Ligertwood (also late of Santana). The core band is rounded out by bassist Derek Frank and percussionist Luis Conte.

Centering this project around an axis of guitar and Auger’s hallmark B-3 sounds, Golub sought to wring a gritty soul-jazz feel from this album, and the four part horn section accentuates that mood. No one will mistake this for a Booker T. Jones session at Stax, but Golub’s and Grammy-nominated Bud Harner’s production keeps things firmly grounded and let the musicians make the music, not the guys behind the boards or some heavy technological intervention.

Thusly, it’s a fun affair that doesn’t jam too hard but doesn’t get too slick, either; Trains finds a happy medium. The instrumentals mix up originals by both Auger and Golub and a few covers in the soul-blues vein, too. Lalo Schifrin’s “The Cat” sets the mood with a playful tone and great integration of the horns (Jimmy Smith originally covered this song with a big band behind him). Golub mined another soul-jazz gem that hasn’t been covered to death with Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman,” featuring relaxed trading of licks between him and Auger. Auger’s tunes, both classic and new for this album, are included too: “Isola Natale,” with a mild Santana vibe and Golub’s tasteful licks, debuts here as does the funky blues shuffle “Shepherds Bush Market.” Golub’s own tune “Train Keeps A Rolling” sports a Brazilian Carnival-type atmosphere and bright unison lines between Golub and Auger.

The vocal tracks hearken back to classic adult contemporary rock of the 70s and 80s, featuring both noted vocalists and songs of the style and era. Christopher Cross’s smooth croon is applied to a rendition Ace’s soul-pop hit “How Long” and David Pack of Ambrosia supplies overlapping background vocals during the chorus of The Police’s capacious “Walking On The Moon,” though Golub’s jazzy guitar is the main voice on this cover. Ligertwood offers a soulful, slightly grittier alternative as he undertakes the old Oblivion Express numbers “Happiness Is Just Around the Bend” and “Whenever You’re Ready.”

Faced with adversity (more of which came last September when he was nearly killed by a NYC subway train), Golub responded by facing his challenges head on, and assembled a support group to help him do so. When your support group consists of the likes of a fusion legend like Brian Auger, it makes life easier to deal with. And the resultant music that much more joyful to listen to.

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Train Keeps A Rolling drops on August 13, by Entertainment One Music. Visit Jeff Golub’s site for more info.

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