Despite the title of his latest recording, Buddy Guy really doesn’t have anything to prove. Admired and cited as an influence by some of rock’s greatest guitarists (including the likes of Clapton), he’s an acknowledged master of his instrument. He’s got a genuinely impressive history, including early work with Muddy Waters and an extended partnership with harmonica ace Junior Wells, as well as a lengthy solo career that’s been on a steady rise since back in the 90’s.
So the question regarding a Buddy Guy CD is the quality of the material, and just how engaged he is with said material. On that basis, Living Proof stands as a career highlight.
Guy should be engaged here. Most of the tunes are directly biographical, written by producer Tom Hambridge based on casual conversations with Guy. But while the lyrics might occasionally be a bit solipsistic, there’s no doubt Guy is singing and playing from the heart this time out. “74 Years Young,” the obviously-autobiographical opener, and the staunchly defiant “Thank Me Someday,” the one-two punch that kicks things off, set the stage – with stellar, bone-crunching backup anchored by Hambridge’s drums. He literally tells his life story while tearing off ferocious leads with utterly dazzling dexterity.
The band varies from track to track, with Reese Wynans on keys and guitarist David Grissom fairly constant throughout. Guest turns include B. B. King and Carlos Santana, the former trading licks and lines on the relaxed and reflective “Stay Around A Little Longer,” the latter weaving sinuous guitar lines through “Where The Blues Begin,” a stylistic contrast that brings out the best in both guitarists.
The slightly latin-leaning “Where The Blues Begin” aside, Hanbridge’s compositions stick fairly close to blues convention, providing sturdy twelve-bar bedrock that give Guy lots of room for his incendiary guitar work. Guy responds with his trademark intensity, undiminished by time or age; he’s absolutely on fire here, with no signs of mellowing or slowing down. His solos are furious, bordering on frenetic, and it’s obvious he’s still completely in command of his legendary prowess on the six-string.