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Music Review: Pete Anderson – Even Things Up / Deluxe Edition

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Pete Anderson’s blues credentials are solid indeed. The son of working-class parents, raised in Detroit, he caught the blues bug in his teens when he first heard Muddy Waters on the radio. As with so many others, it literally changed his life. Toiling in factories by day, he honed his blues chops in bars at night, eventually migrating to the West Coast and pursuing music as a full-time career.

That career has been remarkably successful. Anderson worked for many years with Dwight Yoakam (1986 to 2003), and has been a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman, and The Tonight Show. As a producer and arranger, he’s had a hand in numerous acclaimed recordings in various roots genres, playing an integral role in the burgeoning Americana movement. He’s even launched his own signature guitar to rave reviews.

Even Things Up / Deluxe Edition is his fifth solo outing, with Anderson adding four tracks to an earlier limited release. One features the great Bekka Bramlett on lead vocals, while two are live tracks recorded in August 2010.

Anderson’s own vocals aren’t particularly remarkable, though there’s an appealing and appropriately gritty edge to his voice. He’s wise enough, however, to work within his range, and he gets significant help from background vocalist Maxine Waters throughout, with Michael Murphy (responsible for excellent Hammond organ work as well as piano, accordion, and key bass) stepping up front for his own “Room With A View.”

Anderson’s an absolute monster on guitar, though, as witnessed on opener “Honky Tonk Girl,” a tight Texas shuffle with icy-cool Telecaster tones reminiscent of the late Albert Collins. “Booker Twine,” the instrumental that follows, is equally concise and focused, with a catchy riff that Anderson is savvy enough not to overwork. Other instrumentals include the jazzy “Wes’ Side Blues” (an obvious tip of the hat to a rather influential guitarist named Montgomery) and “Dogbone Shuffle,” powered by a fine horn section (Lee Thornburg and David Woodford) with lots of tricky changes.

Anderson wrote (some with help) all but the aforementioned “Room,” and while it’s all primarily rooted in the blues, Anderson’s not one for paint-by-numbers reproduction, and there’s more than enough variety to keep things interesting. He goes acoustic on the scathing “Prophet For Profit,” adding some fine harmonica along the way, while “110 In The Shade” is a dark delta blues with more harp.

Given that Anderson’s vocals aren’t his strong suit, it’s not surprising that he’d lean to the guitar to make his point. He does a credible enough job on his own “Still In Love,” and while it was brave and generous to include a version of the same tune featuring Bramlett strutting her sultry stuff, his take pales in comparison. The emphasis on guitar and the quirkiness of a few of the compositions might not captivate casual listeners, but if you’re hungry for something a little different with lots of musical meat and singular six-string work of exceptional caliber, this is a fine collection.

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