Dave Specter with Otis Clay Message in Blue Album Review

By Kyle Deibler – July 2014

I find it interesting that Dave Specter’s latest release on Delmark Records,Message In Blue, is the label’s first blues release on vinyl since the 1991 release of another Specter record, Bluebird Blues. Dave is an extremely talented instrumentalist who leaves the vocal work on his disc to Otis Clay and Brother John Kattke. The result is a tasty mix of instrumentals and vocals with something for everyone. Let’s give it a listen.

The first cut up is the guitar-driven “New West Side Stroll.” Dave’s got a top notch band behind him and I’m enjoying the rawness of his guitar work. It’s got just the right amount of “bite” for me to appreciate, and we’re off and running as Brother John chimes in with some righteous B3. Otis is at the microphone and the band gets after “Got To Find A Way.” Otis is in fine form and I’m enjoying another great vocal from one of the finest soul singers of our time. “I can’t stand…being alone…without your love…I can’t go on…but, baby…please hear my plea…and bring your love on home to me.” Dave and Otis definitely nailed a great version of this classic Harold Burrage tune. Otis continues at the helm as the band tackles “This Time I’m Gone For Good,” and the tune is intended as a tribute to the late, great Bobby “Blue” Bland. Dave’s intensely emotional guitar playing echoes the pain in Otis’s voice and the tune is a beautiful homage to Bobby.

The title track, “Message In Blue,” is the next instrumental track on the disc and I find it to be intensely passionate in a way that’s hard to describe. Dave does a great job of conveying the emotion intended for this track and I’m appreciative of the outstanding instrumentalist that he is. Horns come into play and Brother John is at the microphone for “Chicago Style.” A European tour favorite, “Chicago Style” pays homage to all of the greats who have come before on the Chicago Blues scene. “Muddy Waters…and Otis Rush…Sunnyland Slim, they had the touch…Willie Dixon and Mighty Joe…there’s not a song they didn’t know…from the west side…to the magnificent mile…Blues had a soul…they called Chicago style.” Up-tempo and aggressive, “Chicago Style” is a great tune and much appreciated. Otis is back on the vocals for an outstanding version of Wilson Pickett’s “I Found a Love.” “I found a love…that I need…oh, yea…I found a gift….that I just can’t resist…I found a love…oh, that I need…Lord, that I need.” This is Otis’s final vocal contribution to Dave’s record and it’s another great, impassioned performance from Otis.

“Funkified Outta Space” is the next instrumental track on the disc, and this one is heavily influenced by all of the great tunes from the Meters. It’s catchy, the B3 is jamming and Dave is testifying. It all adds up to a special cut and the band absolutely flat nails it. The band moves on to a Don Nix tune, “Same Old Blues,” and here we have Brother John tackling the vocal with gusto. “I can’t help…can’t help but thinking…when the sun used to shine…in my backdoor…now, the sun…has turned away…all my laughter…turned to pain…it’s the strain…strain of the same old blues.” I’m continually impressed by the band Dave has surrounded him with and Brother John gives a brilliant performance on this tune.

Up next is “The Stinger” and Dave plays a slow, emotional intro before the band turns the heat up with a Latin beat. The tune rocks and I’m definitely thinking about salsa dancing in my mind. A very delicate intro is provided by Dave as the band segues into “Jefferson Stomp,” and then takes on a swing country feel as Bob Corritore joins the band with his harp for this tune. Bob’s playing is tasteful and a welcome addition to the band on this cut.

A Lonnie Brooks tune, “Watchdog,” is up next and Brother John is testifying. “Your little brother…ain’t nothing but a watchdog…follows us everywhere we go…tells everything he knows…he’s a watchdog.” The date is obviously not going to go well with her little brother running this kind of interference so Brother John would probably be best served by just leaving the girl at home. There’s some serious saxophone at play as the band moves its way to another Latin influenced tune, “The Spectifyin’ Samba.” I’m really loving the saxophone and appreciating the slower rhythm found in this instrumental.

Bob Corritore returns for the final tune, “Opus De Swamp,” and here we find the influences of Pops Staples tremolo-styled guitar on Dave. Deliberately paced, I appreciate the diversity of all of the instrumental cuts that Dave chose to include on Message In Blue and the result.

Message In Blue is Dave’s 10th release and its noted that he considered singing a tune for the first time on this disc. I honestly think he should have gone for it since it’s the last frontier in terms of Dave’s own personal contributions to his music. This is a very strong recording and something new would have been appreciated. Maybe on the 11th.

Return To Main Reviews page