Jimmy Hall returns to the spotlight in a big way with “Ready Now,” his first solo album of original songs since his great “Rendezvous with the Blues” in 1996. Meanwhile, he toured with Jeff Beck, cut a fine Eddie Hinton tribute album, collaborated on a variety of projects including one with Tommy Castro, and released a live set featuring a reconvened Wet Willie. Hall began his career leading Wet Willie in the early 1970s, shouting rough and ready, Southern funky rhythm and blues. At 73 years young, Hall proves here that he’s still one of the most full-bodied vocalists ever, his pitch Alabama soul-fired and as enticing as red eye gravy-drenched grits.
Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith produced “Ready Now” in vibrant, punchy sound. Both play guitar ideally suited to the occasion. Keyboardist Reese Wynans, bassist Michael Rhodes, and drummer Greg Morrow complete the robust band. All that high-profile participation and production in no way diminishes Hall’s delivery of Southern panache, and in every way boosts the energy behind these 11 new songs he wrote with Bonamassa and others.
Each tells a story, most centered on renewal. On a roll of Morrow’s drums, the band launches into “Jumpin’ for Joy,” the album-opening rave-up. In the song’s video, Hall dances his way down Nashville’s Honky Tonk row, dodging tourists, and singing and blowing sweet harp like the South’s Mick Jagger — a rockin’ pied piper of pure joy. “Risin’ Up” then takes it down to the river for a baptism of faith and hope, Bonamassa soloing emphatically, and Hall moaning on harp like a distant train. Gospel undertones surface often on the album. Even on “Dream Release,” written by Hall’s son James from his dad’s perspective about his days running with Duane and Gregg Allman. The tune plays like an act of Broadway theater, complete with a glorious horn section and backing voices. Audacious and unusual as it is, it fits perfectly.
“Girl’s Got Sugar” rocks hard like classic Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bonamassa ripping, Wynans rolling piano keys, and Hall absolutely grinding it out in voice and on harp. Then the title song offers a Southern rock opus centered on confession and rebirth featuring Warren Haynes on slide guitar. Haynes plays in the Duane Allman-inspired, unfussy but heated way of his earliest days in the Allman Brothers.
The remainder of “Ready Now” stays the course of high quality and diversity. There’s pure soul, a contagious, soul baring hit of Southern-style hip-hop, and finally a porch style blues. Hall sure was ready, and Bonamassa’s team was the right choice to assist in composing and performing this stunning R&B revue.
Label: Keeping the Blues Alive Records
Release: September 16, 2022