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The first thing that really hits you listening to David Vest’s new album, East Meets Vest is how brilliantly the piano is recorded. The crystal clear impact of it hits you with an immediacy as if there was no distance, as if you were right there in the studio or even better a living room. If there were any studio effects used in this recording it doesn’t sound it.
David Vest is one of the hidden gems of American music and along the way he’s played many kinds of music and written many kinds of songs. For the past decade or so he’s turned to his first musical love blues, and this album makes it very clear why. Vest has been performing since the ’50s, for years as a sideman. He’s worked with Big Joe Turner, Bill Black, Lavelle White and Jimmy T99 Nelson among others. It is obvious from his music he knows all the greats of blues piano and has learned from all of them from Otis Spann to Champion Jack Dupree.
While East Meets Vest has three original songs, several songs by WC Handy, and several other covers, this album isn’t about original songs or covers. It’s about the joy of blues and of blues piano and the simple wonderful pleasure of music. And the music covers a wide range of blues styles and often ventures into swing and other genres as well.
Vest is backed by three superb Canadian musicians, Teddy Leonard, guitar; Gary Kendall, bass, and Mike Fitzpatrick on drums with Canadian guitar hero Paul James sitting in on lead on his song, “Boogie Woogie Baby.” All the musicians play with incredible taste, even restraint, while keeping things both funky and swinging. More important, these guys know what not to do which is just as important as knowing what to do. While there’s plenty of hot solos, for instance Teddy Leonard on “Black Dress,” there is not one instance of showing off. The music and the songs, and the feeling behind the songs always comes first.
Vest sings in a tough, soulful straightforward style free of any mannerisms or excess. He knows how to make the key lines stand out, and makes you believe he’s lived every line he’s singing as well as convey every situation he’s singing about. When he sings, “I’ve been to Kansas City,” at the beginning of “Piney Brown Blues,” you get the feeling that not only has be been to Kansas City, but that he’s stayed in every seedy hotel and drank in every lowdown bar.
Vest’s choice of material is also intriguing. While there are nods here and there in his piano to Chicago, blues only the original “Shake What You Got” clearly proclaims the Chicago sound, and to make things more fun it’s a guitar tune, where Leonard truly captures early ’50s Muddy Waters right down to an extremely dirty guitar tone. The band is grooving so hard, and Vest is clearly having a ton of fun singing, that he actually forgot to play piano until the end when he comes in pumping the high notes in a style that’s a lot closer to Jerry Lee Lewis than it is to Otis Spann.
Also up there is “Come Clean With Me,” another original. Vest’s opening piano intro has echoes of “Summertime” before moving into deep, slow blues. The piano is the dominant instrument here with several marvelous solos while the guitar punctuates certain passages as well as lines with an ominous edge. There’s plenty of room in this song for a dramatic guitar solo, and most bands would have had one. But what’s cool about this track is you expect one to happen and it doesn’t and the fact that it doesn’t gives the song extra power.
Standing out above everything is Vest’s piano playing. He leaves you doubt that he totally knows blues piano – all of it. His solos are constantly inventive, always taking you some place you didn’t expect to go. When you think he’s going to play a typical piano run, he doesn’t and then when you least expect it he slips one in.
Vest’s choice of material is also unique as is the way originals totally mesh in with songs that are decades old. If there’s a feel to this album other than the fact that every track manages to swing, it’s of the South. Many of the songs have a feel of midnight escapades along the Tennessee/Mississippi border, while the rest echoes ever lonesome roadhouse along some dark highway from Birmingham to Kansas City.
East Meets Vest is available here: http://davidvest.ca/