(The following will be the first in a series of performer profiles leading up to the Labor Day weekend Howlin’ Wolf Festival which will be held at The West Point Civic Center Friday evening, September 2nd)
Grady Champion, the 2010 IBC winner, has been knocking on the door to the next level of blues stardom for quite some time now, but with his latest release, Dreamin’ (GSM Music Group), he should be poised to kick the door in. For his fifth release, The Canton, MS native has joined forces with another Mississippi native and rising star, Zac Harmon, who co-produced the disc with drummer Christopher Troy. The result is a slicker product that incorporates R&B into the mix (a genre Champion is completely comfortable with), but also still retains the down-home grit that Champion brings to his live performances.
The opening cut is a high-powered remake of “My Rooster Is King,” which first appeared on his 1999 Shanachie release, Payin’ For My Sins, that really shows Champion at his best with a brash, confident vocal and some torrid harmonica. The title cut is next up and it’s a soulful mid-tempo workout on the R&B side that teams with Champion with background singers Sue Ann Carwell and Cedric Goodman, and features a sinewy Harmon guitar break.
“Weight of the World” is a gentle ballad that should make some noise on radio. “Guilty as Charged” finds Champion lamenting breaking his lover’s heart. Champion’s harp and a fiery solo from guitarist Gregg Wright are standouts on this track.
“Same Train” brings Champion back to the blues in full force with its driving boogie rhythm, slide guitar from Wright, and Champion’s gritty vocal. Listeners might find themselves on their feet dancing to the salacious “Make That Monkey Jump.”
“Cross That Bridge” is a southern soul tune, co-written by Champion and composer A.D. Prestage, a Canton resident who penned “Shade Tree Mechanic” for Z.Z. Hill back in the day. “Thank You for Giving Me the Blues” is a masterful slow blues with Champion’s testifying vocal punctuated by Harmon’s crisp guitar fills.
“Laugh, Smile, Cry” is reminiscent of a classic Ray Charles ’50s tune, with Champion’s confident vocals answered by the background singers (a la the Raelettes), but Champion’s countrified harmonica adds a whole other layer to the song. The funky “Walk With Me, Baby” is a sequel of sorts to the Slim Harpo classic, “Baby, Scratch My Back,” with Harmon giving a sly vocal and Champion blowing the harp like there’s no tomorrow.
I can’t say enough about the excellent backing band of Harmon (guitar, drums), Troy (drums, keyboards) and Wright (guitar), and those wonderful background vocals from Carwell and Goodman. If Grady Champion doesn’t strike gold with Dreamin’, then there’s absolutely no justice in the world.
Champion will hit the Howlin’ Wolf Festival stage at 10:00 p.m. in West Point on Friday night, September 2nd.