New York City guitarist Stew Cutler‘s sixth album Every Sunday Night is a long-steeped brew of soul, jazz, and blues-rock including several tracks with vocals by local soul man Bobby Harden. Harden’s presence is likely to make any recording worth a listen (or any gig worth the cover charge). But the opening track, “The Grind,” is one of several instrumental originals on the album, and it sets a powerful smoky tone all its own, thanks partly to smooth organ playing from its co-writer Nick Semrad.
Drummer Bill McClellan charges the otherwise jazzy and easygoing original “Gumbo Trane” with a gentle funk-rock fizz, but the track’s main appeal lies in Cutler’s inspired soloing. Julian Pollack lays down a tasty stuttering organ solo, and contributes to a fun rhythm rave-up in this Trane’s caboose.
Harden joins the band first on the dark, prickly “Before I Go,” a blues number that sounds a bit as if Otis Redding had joined forces with Son Seals. Harden then channels the roots of gospel in the Allman Brothers’ “Not My Cross to Bear,” which centers on an otherworldly solo from Cutler. The guitarist is equally inspired on the instrumental original “Brookline” with its straightforward melody and occasional tongue-in-cheek rhythmic surprise. Among its other virtues, this album is a lot of fun, no doubt in part because it was recorded almost-live.
There isn’t much to the gospel-rooted blues-rock of “TV Preacher,” and the band’s super-slow take on the Sam and Dave classic “When Something is Wrong with My Baby” feels at first like it might be running on empty. But once the voices of Harden and guest JT Bowen join in harmony the track takes flight. Bowen takes a verse, Cutler contributes a deliciously languid solo, and the two singers’ differing styles – Harden sweet and impassioned, Bowen rough and raw – turn the soul nugget into a new animal, almost painfully laden with emotional depth.
The concise album closes with a charming ’60s-style instrumental with a light Dave Brubeck-type touch – though like everything Cutler and his band take up here, it evolves into a masterwork of rhythm and improvisation – followed by a smoking guitar-solo excerpt from an actual live performance, presumably one of the band’s sets at Arthur’s Tavern. The latter isn’t necessary; the album tracks are more than enough of a treat to make you want to catch Stew Cutler & Friends in action. Meantime, pick up Every Sunday Night for the good vibes, good times, and musicianship that’s fluid and sharp, expert and humane. It will be available beginning September 15.