TOUGH TIMES DON'T LAST
LABEL: GRADY SHADY MUSIC
RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 5, 2013
DISTRIBUTION: CD BABY
The reigning “champion” of Mississippi blues returns in the best shape of his career with hard hitting songs featuring vocals dripping emotion while boldly addressing contemporary issues. With his lyrical harmonica and guitar that stings like a bee, Grady Champion delivers a decisive knockout blow to the soul with his seventh release.
His 12 original tunes span a stunning range of music. The “Grady Bunch” includes Caleb Armstrong (guitar, production, string arrangements), Marquis Champion (bass), Lil Cal Jackson (drums), Nathan Keck (guitar), Chris Gill (guitar), Granard McClendon (guitar), Larry Addison (piano), Kevin Culver (keyboards), Steve Wilkerson (keyboards), Amy Lott (clarinet) and Thomasine Anderson (background vocals). “My Time Baby” shows Champion to be the heir of Sonny Boy Williamson II as his “Mississippi saxophone” talks back over a supple shuffle beat. “Missing You” channels Stevie Wonder with endearing lyrics, silky harmony vocals and melodic harp work. Champion reaches down into his roots on “Mississippi Pride” with evocative images like, “I was born on 43 South, corn bread and catfish tasted good in my mouth” as Larry Addison (writer of the hit song “Members Only”) accompanies sensitively on the tender ballad.
“Trust Yourself” contains the bruising lyrics “I see my sister down on the street, she’s got blisters burning through the sole of her feet, working for her man, who treats her like a piece of meat” though the horn-driven R&B uplifts the mantra-like refrain “Trust yourself, you gotta trust yourself.” Squeezing the strings with fiery passion over a howling highway sound on the heavy blues-rocking “Broken Down Cadillac,” Champion lashes out with “Fooling with a girl like you, I get a heart attack (Red alert! Cardiac!)… I’m on the freeways and I’m catching a flat, like a broken down Cadillac.” The insistently swaying bayou beat on “Glory Train” via the locked-in groove of Marquis Champion and Lil Cal Jackson drives the metaphorical vehicle of salvation.
Champion tears at the heartstrings with a weary voice on the funky minor key R&B of “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be” while picking poignant guitar fills over the velvety backing. The title track is a classic 8-bar gospelly ballad. Its resolute refrain of “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do” brackets Champion preaching “When a dark cloud seems so dark and gray, I know the sun will shine on a brand new day. Like grandma said, ‘Son don’t worry, it will be okay’” graced by a sweet clarinet solo from Amy Lott. “On the Road” configures a funky, melancholy, minor chord progression while painting an ambiguous picture of the traveling musician with the hypnotic vocal hook “I want it, I gotta have it, on the road, on the road, on the road.”
“Ghetto” constitutes the moral center of the record as Champion “raps” autobiographical lines such as “When I was growing up I didn’t know how to act. Now I’m a grown man and I want to give back” driven home by Nathan Keck’s piercing guitar. With a nod to Howlin’ Wolf, Champion barks out country blues metaphors for a betraying “back door man” over the menacing monochord stomp of “Cookie Jar” capped by “Who’s had their hand in my cookie jar?” Appropriate to the season, he ends on an upbeat note with the future holiday classic “What Would Christmas Be Without You,” offering another reassuring measure of hope coursing through the set.
Rare is the bluesman with the confidence to expose his deepest feelings about life and love shorn of false swagger and braggadocio. Rarer still is to produce great art and entertainment in the process. Grady Champion has done it all while forging ahead in his musical odyssey.
Dave Rubin, 2005 KBA recipient in journalism