Review: Lucky Peterson – You Can Always Turn Around (Dreyfus, 2010)
At the age of 46, Lucky Peterson has already had a forty-year long career. Discovered by Willie Dixon at three-years of age, Peterson was recording and appearing on television by the age of five. His apprenticeships with numerous blues legends led to solo albums on Alligator, Verve and Blue Thumb, culminating in 2003’s Black Midnight Sun for the Birdology label. It was at this point that Peterson’s drug problems began to affect his career, and the next several years were spent making releases on small European labels and, eventually, getting clean. Lucky for Lucky that the blues revere their elder statesman, and at middle-age he’s primed to reintroduce himself to American audiences.
This latest album was waxed with a number of Woodstock-area players, but it’s his triple-threat talents as vocalist, guitarist and organist that provide many of the highlights. The buzz of Peterson’s resonator guitar fills Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” and Robert Johnson’s “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” begging his way inside on the first and forcefully calling out a cheating mate on the second. He turns to his piano for a cover of Ray LaMontagne’s (and Travelers Insurance’s) “Trouble,” giving the song a deep gospel groove steeped in his personal recovery. Salvation is also the theme of Bill Calahan’s “I’m New Here,” a line of which provides the album’s title; Peterson finds room for a new interpretation between the plain folk styling of Smog’s original and the quick-paced cover recently released by Gil-Scott Heron. The music is more lush and Peterson’s connects with the lyrics’ portrayal of physical and spiritual rebirth.
Peterson stretches out on a pair of contemporary covers, matching Lucinda Williams’ fiery images in “Atonement” with scorching electric guitar, and finding beauty in Tom Waits’ “Trampled Rose” by expanding the melodic hook into an Arabian maqam. Blues and soul still remain the core of his musicality as he hard-strums his resonator guitar and expertly picks his acoustic against funky shuffle rhythms. His guitar sparks with outbursts of emotion on Reverend Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and his vocals (accompanied by wife Tamara) strike a hopeful tone on the civil rights anthem “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” Peterson never really disappeared from the blues scene, but his latest album has the feeling of a fresh start, with terrific players helping him realize music with deeply personal roots.