Think of a place for blues down South and Clarksdale, Austin or New Orleans might come to mind. But lately, great artists have traveled “Way Down South” to Sao Paulo, Brazil to play with the young and vibrant Igor Prado Band.
Guitarist Igor Prado has been making waves in blues circles for 15 years for his penchant for mixing traditional and West Coast swing blues with elements of jazz and ’60s soul thrown in for good measure. His dexterous style is bolstered by the talents of his brother Yuri on drums, Rodrigo Mantovani on bass and Denilson Martins on saxophone.
The Igor Prado Band and Delta Groove All Stars album “Way Down South” was culled from recording sessions between 2011 and 2014 with numerous label mates and collaborators from its native Sao Paulo, Brazil. The album sounds like a bunch of friends hanging out and making music for the fun of it because, well, it is fun. It is a joyful affair and the musicians’ excitement of playing together is palpable.
“Matchbox” rolls out the gates at a delightful clip with tight guitar solos from Prado and “Monster” Mike Welch and a swinging horn arrangement that keeps the song tastefully light. On “She’s Got It,” the band switches gears to a greasy stomp reminiscent of Muddy Waters, which is fitting because the song is sung by Waters’ son, Mud Morganfield. It is a commanding vocal performance and one can practically feel the sweat falling from Morganfield’s brow as he belts out the verses.
One musician the band wanted to celebrate on “Way Down South” was the late Lynwood Slim. Slim was an early friend and champion of the band and the partnership between Prado and Slim produced the band’s 2010 release, “Brazilian Kicks.” One of the album’s standouts, a rendition of Lowell Fulson’s “Baby Won’t You Jump With Me,” showcases Slim’s velvety vocals while the band relaxes into a soft, jazzy swing. Saxophonist Denilson Martins delivers mindful fills between Slim’s verses and there is a wonderful piano breakdown by the nimble Ari Borger. Prado is clean and playful on guitar and the toned-down nature of the song allows him to explore the subtleties of jazz guitar.
“Way Down South” never falls into repetitiveness which can dry out some blues albums that get locked into one kind of sound. The band traverses through varied blues landscapes with mastery and authority, but it always leaves room for the band members to add their unique interpretation. “Trying to Do Right” is a passionate take on acoustic, front-porch blues and “Shake and Fingerpop” feels like a rousing Wilson Pickett single. The band is a blues chameleon that morphs into whatever style it suit.
The variety of the album is also attributed to the multitude of collaborators on the album. Each guest has their strength and the Igor Prado Band is happy to play to those strengths. Sugaray Rayford, the lead singer in Delta Groove’s all-star revue, the Mannish Boys, sings like a billowing thundercloud and the band members smartly let his voice take the lead on “Big Mama Blues” while they rumble behind him. Mitch Kashmar both sang and played harp on “What Have I Done,” but it was his harp playing that really stands out, introducing itself on the track with the robustness of a trombone. Borger also shines as he keeps the song rolling along with bright piano flourishes and steady rhythm work.
“Way Back Home” is an entertaining album which never falls in a rut. After this release, more musicians are going to want to spend a week or two in Sao Paulo to see what kind of fun they can get into with the Igor Prado Band.
Igor Prado Band
‘Way Down South’
Delta Groove Records, Feb. 17, 2015
Notable tracks: “Baby Won’t You Jump with Me,” “What Have I Done,” “Big Mama Blues”