Performers like Boy Wells are the reasons we need terms like Americana and “roots” to uneasily define elusive, slippery musical genres. In the case of Wells, categorization is even more difficult, as his range of styles is all over the map. The one obvious factor unifying the tracks on his debut album is that they’re all rooted in traditions born in Mississippi, New Orleans, Nashville, and Memphis.
Recorded by Dave Hanbury at House of Jam Recording in Beltsville, Maryland, the 12 original songs on Blue Skies Calling were first released in October 2010 as digital downloads. Now available as a CD on Wells’ independent label, Marcel Marsupial, the only consistency in the dozen tracks is Wells’ guitar work and occasional baritone vocals. While touted as a showcase for his slide, electric, and acoustic virtuosity, this release also demonstrates that Wells can be generous sharing the stage with players who can make the most of his varied musical settings.
For example, the jazzy instrumental opener, “Mr. Coluzzi,” is a soulful groove riding as much on the sax work of Bill Watson and trumpeter Brad Clements as the restrained guitar leads. Watson is an indispensable presence on other tracks as well, including “Bring it Back,” which sounds like what the Allman Brothers might have done with a sax man in their line-up. “Marcell Marsupial” almost evokes the musicianship of The Doors, a moody, ethereal instrumental with tight guitar/sax interplay. Likewise, “Love in Vain” is jazzy blues featuring guitar, saxophone, and soaring bass lines from bassist John Prevetti.
But Wells’ spectrum also features hard driving blues rock, as in “World Weary and Blue” and “Broke Down,” where the guitar lines are a bit reminiscent of Roy Buchanan. Then, Rickie Simpkins (violin and mandolin) adds country flavor to “Blue Skies Calling.” “Devil’s Backbone Blues” is just that, straight-up bottleneck blues. The rest of the album contains instrumental jams like “Tova,” “Tin Winter,” and “Traveller,” where Becky Taylor’s banjo helps add a streak of bluegrass to the proceedings.
A special bonus on the new CD is a CD-ROM featuring a one-hour guitar lesson given to Wells by his mentor, Danny Gatton, recorded in the late ‘70s in Gatton’s living room before his death. This feature is for guitar players only. For the rest of us, the album is an interesting debut with nice touches on a batch of tracks where some hot folks lay down some hot licks. It’s not a break-out collection that will put Wells on the musical map, but it includes all the ingredients I hope to hear in a new recipe down the road.