Billy Stapleton,
with Mark Dufresne,
Got to Be a Love
(Interurban, 2000)

Got to Be a Love is a superlative album by a talented genius who has hitherto been criminally overlooked on the international stage. The phenomenal guitar skills of Billy Stapleton and the classy far-ranging vocals of Mark Dufresne combine in richness to make this album a delicious, luxurious treat. It served as a startling reminder of how much I loved good blues, and I found it refreshing in its excellence. The cover photo of Billy is, however, terribly misleading; giving a visual impression of a rather dull Hank Marvin/Eric Clapton look-alike! How sad the Powers That Be didn't choose a more stimulating photo to imitate the man's fire and passion with his guitar. I would be desolate to be deprived of this album but, uninitiated, would have passed it by if browsing in a music store.

"Got to Be a Love" is the opening track, with Dufresne's masterful vocals more than a match for the combination of Stapleton's sensational guitar, Mark Ross on Hammond organ and a strong line-up on brass. A hint of "Unbreak My Heart" makes this track imprint rapidly on the memory, and on a second listening it has already established itself as an old favourite.

"Blue Attitude" has a bluesier feel, with definitive slide guitar work from Stapleton. "Mack Attack," a rock-based, thrumming powerhouse of a number with all the pacyness of "Johnny Be Good," follows as an homage to Lonnie Mack, the blues-rock innovator. "No One Leads the Blind" is a mellow ballad; Dufresne returning with softer vocals, and with the Hammond and sax providing emotive input, it transports you to an atmosphere redolent with cigarette smoke and whiskey, warm companionship and soul-touching music. The slide guitar makes a difference in the classic blues/rock "Real Gone Love," which has a lengthy instrumental introduction and settles into a hard-hitting, down and dirty beat that fizzes at the edges.

"Build Me Up" returns to a gentler balladic pace, but the enveloping guitar sound goes so far as to make Dufresne's more than adequate vocals seem apparently thin. It is, however, a pleasure to focus on the guitar presence in the hands of such a brilliant artist as Stapleton. "Turkey in the Mayonnaise" is a regrettably short instrumental featuring some fine and tasty picking with Stapleton on National steel guitar and Bobby Vega on Fender bass. "Love of My Life" has Dufresne on soulful top form and some outstanding guitar solos by Stapleton; close your eyes and drift away, wrapped in velvet blues tones....

The next track, unlike the rest of the album, is not a Stapleton original or collaboration, but an arrangement of James Braken's instrumental number, "Steppin' Out". His arrangement gives it a similar rock feel to "Mack Attack" and proves him equally multi-talented, whether it be composition or interpretation; his talent as a player is established from the first few bars! Dufresne features once more on the vocals of "Before I Go," a toe-tapping track accompanied by the cosily recognizable warm-sounding Hammond B3, trumpets and tenor and baritone saxes. Throughout, Stapleton's gifted fingers on the guitar raise the quality of this album into the realms of magic. The closing "I'll Fall Down," like the opening song, seems to take up residence in your sub-conscious, and it was with difficulty I tried to convince myself that I hadn't heard this before, as its more sedately paced tune seemed achingly familiar.

Got to Be a Love is a priceless gem of an album; a must-have for blues aficionados, an essential primer for those new-come to appreciation of the style and a sure-fire "Road to Damascus" converter for those who disdain the genre. Its polished sophistication provides an unforgettable introduction to this maestro and I only wish my formerly substantial vocabulary of superlatives was sufficient to praise it. I await the appearance of a follow-up album with anticipation and certainty and feel confident that his extraordinary gifts will attract invitations to guest with other artists on an increasingly international arena. I am astounded I hadn't heard of Billy Stapleton before; his skill is sorcerous, entrancing, consummate -- it is an exceptionally well-conceived debut album.

[ by Jenny Ivor ]
Rambles: 22 June 2002

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