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Skin Deep

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Album Review

It's hard to say that Buddy Guy's career was revived by his appearance in the Rolling Stones' Shine a Light, but his mesmerizing duet on Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer" in that Martin Scorsese concert film was a bracing, welcome reminder of just how good Guy is, especially for listeners who may have let their attention wander in the years since Damn Right, I've Got the Blues. What made Guy so riveting was his coiled aggression: in stark contrast to the deferential Jack White, he came to cut the Stones down and he did so mercilessly, which made it the musical highlight of a show with plenty of great moments. That wildness has kept Buddy Guy unpredictable well into his senior citizenship, and it surfaces on Skin Deep, only perhaps not quite as often as it should. Touted as his first album of original material, Skin Deep does work as an effective showcase for Buddy's most original voice: his wild, gnarly guitar. The production may be crisp and clean but Buddy refuses to play polite, messing up the pristine surfaces with big, nasty, ugly smears of guitar. Even when the record gleams too brightly — as it does just a little bit too often — Guy sounds like he's trying to tear things apart from the inside, which lends vigor and energy to numbers that are performed with just a shade too much preciseness. Thankfully, not all of Skin Deep is so clean, as the record opens up with a pair of dynamite collaborations with Robert Randolph — the stripped-down, swampy Delta blues "Out in the Woods" and the muscular "That's My Home." Guy also gets in a couple of good numbers with Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks — there's also a duet with Eric Clapton on "Every Time I Sing the Blues," which slides into a too-comfortable slow groove — and these are the moments when Skin Deep really clicks, as the songs spark and the band truly cooks. Elsewhere, the music slips toward the conventional, but at least it sounds like Guy is trying to reel it back in with that monstrous guitar, which can still sound wondrous. It's kind of fun to hear the accidental tension between Guy's guitar and the slick surfaces, but when he's paired with a band or production that matches his grit, Skin Deep is so good that it's hard not to wish the whole record sounded just like that.


Born: 30 July 1936 in Lettsworth, LA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Buddy Guy is one of the most celebrated blues guitarists of his generation (and arguably the most celebrated), possessing a sound and style that embodied the traditions of classic Chicago blues while also embracing the fire and flash of rock & roll. Guy spent much of his career as a well-regarded journeymen, cited as a modern master by contemporary blues fans but not breaking through to a larger audience, before he finally caught the brass ring in the 1990s and released a series of albums that made...
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