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CD Review: Big Joe Fitz

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Big Joe Fitz

Shoulda Known Better

(Independent, 2016)

The intrigue of the blues exists in its paradoxes: familiarity and idiosyncrasy, convention and variation, raw emotion in inherited forms. In its instrumental gestures, its lyrical tropes, and its lexicon of grooves and changes, the blues is all about finding new angles into the old verities. In this regard, blues, soul, and R&B interpreter Big Joe Fitz has a huge advantage. It's called repertoire. Fitz is a scholar of his genres. This curation—every bit as much as Fitz's rich, stylish, and tremulous delivery—makes Shoulda Known Better a subtle treat across its 10 tracks. Featuring songs by Larry Addison, Stix Hooper, Merle Haggard, and country-soul iconoclast Arthur Alexander, the material is first-rate and an expansive musical revelation if the modern guitar blues has gotten a little too one-four-fivey for you.

Fitz is accompanied by his longtime band, the Lo-Fi's: guitarist and featured soloist Mark Dziuba, drummer Chris Bowman, and bassist and recording engineer Robert Bard. First-call regional keyboardist Jeremy Baum sits in on nearly half the tracks, and Fitz's harp playing is nothing to sneeze at. Players with wide-open ears and plentiful chops, their blues are stylistically fluid, often broaching jazz ("Don't Mess Around with Love"). Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" is reimagined as wispy funk. They go in for some cheese-Latin horseplay on the delightful "You Better Move On," and there are plenty of reverent traditional blues here as well. Big Joe sure does love his work. Bigjoefitz.com.

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