Larry Carlton – Sapphire Blue

Sapphire Blue

In his interview with VG (October ’00), Larry Carlton said he wanted to record a blues album. With this import, he has fulfilled his wish. It’s not a straight blues album, but there are definitely songs that fit in no other category. And other cuts certainly have a blues base.

One could say that about Carlton’s playing in general, but the arrangements here are much bluesier than you’d hear on his solo work from the past decade or so.

That brings us to our next point. Why is this an import? Perhaps his U.S. label didn’t fit. Anyway, for Carlton lovers, this is a real treat. From the opening cut, “Friday Night Shuffle,” you know what you’re in for. The straight-ahead blues shuffle is driven by horns and guitar. Nobody plays the blues with the (for lack of a better word) “sweetness” he does. The note choices and the precise stringbending are as nice as it gets.

And that’s just the beginning. “A Pair of Kings” is funky soul with some nice poppin’ guitar that brings to mind Steve Cropper, but with a jazz influence… but it reeks of southern soul. The tune, like everything here, is highlighted by a nasty batch of solos. “Night Sweats” is a minor-key jazzer that calls to mind Miles. Carlton’s mix of soul and chops is something to behold.

The title cut is a slow blues tour de force. Larry pulls out all the stops during this eight-plus minute romp. Big, nasty tone, biting double-stops, and bends that sound like Albert King channeled through jazz heaven all highlight this one. The liquid tones of “Slightly Dirty” are textbook sinewy funk sounds that burst into a bop section that lets Larry show off his traditional chops. “Take Me Down” is an unexpected delight; just guitar and harmonica. And acoustic guitar, at that. It’s country-blues mixed with a slight jazz sensibility. And wrapping up the CD is a nice version of his classic “Room 335.” Fitting, since he’s back to playing a 335.

Fans of Carlton will love this disc. It shows a side of him that usually just peeks through in his other solo work. One word of warning, though; Larry dedicates the album to his granddaughter. My wife got a kick out of the fact that one of my guitar heroes has a grandchild. We’re all getting older…

This article originally appeared in VG‘s March ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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