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Music Review: Tom Dempsey – ‘Saucy’

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Saucy, the latest album from guitarist Tom Dempsey, follows in the footsteps blazed by some of the great guitar/organ trios of past years. Think Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Smith. Think Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith. As Dempsey explains in the liner notes, there is something special about the sound you get from that marriage of instruments. “The nuances of the timbres found in both instruments, when combined together in musical interplay that is rooted in the blues, creates a sonic palette like no other.” The wide color range of both instruments, their many voices, can at times make a trio sound like a much larger ensemble with the richness of its sound. Listening to the work Montgomery did with Smith and his compatriot from Indianapolis, Melvin Rhyne, it is hard to understand why more guitarists haven’t sought out their local organist.

Tom_Dempsey_Saucy_CoverOn Saucy, Ron Oswanski plays Jimmy Smith to Dempsey’s Montgomery. Together they put out some very impressive tracks. Oh, and don’t forget this is a trio, drummer Alvin Atkinson doubles for Grady Tate. Together the three may not have the name recognition of the giants of the past, but they have plenty of talent. With any luck, the first name you come up with when you Google “Tom Dempsey” won’t be a field goal kicker.

Half of the album’s 10 songs are Dempsey originals. They run from tunes like “Ted’s Groove,” written for one of Dempsey’s teachers and mentors, to “Pat-a-tat-tat,” a tribute to guitarist Pat Martino. Then there is “The Big Bailout,” which the composer calls a “tongue-in-cheek” swipe at the banking industry and the government’s bailout. Of course, what you hear may well depend on your politics. The groovy title song justifies its title and has some the most dynamic instrumental interplay on the album.

Of the more familiar songs, there is a jumping exploration of the old Doris Day pop hit “My Secret Love” and a really interesting take on Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” When one thinks of the criticism Wes Montgomery took after his forays into more pop-oriented repertoire, on albums like California Dreaming and A Day in the Life, you have to admire Dempsey for its inclusion. Although I doubt anyone will accuse him of pandering. “One Hundred Ways” and “Bock to Bock” open the set with some sweet, swinging blues and Lee Morgan’s “Ceora” offers some rhythmic variation.

All in all, Saucy is an album filled with some good listening.

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