There really isn’t anything like hearing a band or artist for the first time completely devoid of any expectations and becoming a fan almost immediately. Such was the case when I was able to listen to Sol Roots’ latest live offering, “Live at The Hamilton” recorded in February of 2020 in Washington D.C. Sol Roots and his band provide an upbeat cocktail of equal parts blues, New Orleans funk, rock, and soul that is smooth like a good drink should be.
I’ve long said that a good Grateful Dead cover should be done not as Jerry and the boys would play the song, but with an artist’s own style and flair attached to it. That is exactly what Sol and the guys did by opening up with a fantastic version of “Sugaree” that was done like I’ve never heard it done before. It was up-tempo and full of energy and breathed new life into a Dead standard that can become bogged down and slow. Harmonica titan Phil Wiggins throws down at a dizzying speed that would require the lung capacity of an Olympic swimmer and even that might not be enough.
The entire set has a flow that never stays in one place for too long. With Sol and Wiggins passing the lead back and forth with the ease that only musicians who are fully locked in with one another can pull off, the rhythm section has the ability to quietly and expertly hold down the back end and keep your head bobbing and your toe tapping. Drummer Eddie Christmas (no relation to Lloyd that I could find) and bassist Andreas Holmstrom are as steady as they come and do exactly what a rhythm section should do: provide a landscape for the leads to dance across. The band is balanced and everyone does their job which is the mark of any great group.
The slow and driving “Roberta” quickly became my favorite track of the recording. Listening to the sad almost melancholy lyrics put pictures of an old-timey blues club in my head; plumes of cigarette smoke providing a haze in a dimly lit below ground basement bar with glasses tinkling and a lone spotlight illuminating the stage. Wiggins goes down deep and pulls out a guttural and soulful offering of the lyrics as he and Sol put down some of the nastier licks of the entire set.
This recording is as real and raw as they come. There aren’t any bells or whistles; just nose to the grindstone tunes that pass the head bob test at every turn. If you like tight musicianship and lyrics that tug at the soul strings, this is the recording for you.
You can find more about Sol Roots at https://solrootsmusic.com/home where there a ton of great videos of Sol and company doing what they do best and you can follow Sol on www.facebook.com to keep up with this truly badass blues brother.