One track on All
Blues (7 June 2019; Ume), which contains Peter
Frampton’s cover versions of his favourite blues
classics, stands out above all the rest for its poignancy: Howlin’
Wolf’s (based on Jimmy Oden’s 1942 standard) Going Down Slow.
On Going Down Slow, Frampton teams up with Steve Morse to extend and distort the guitar section of the original in a unique way, but it is the lyric that bites hardest: “If I never get well no more, I have had my fun… Oh, my health is fading. Oh yes, I’m going down slow”.
Because, while Frampton shines again on this album - almost certainly drawing on his favoured 1954 Les Paul Custom -, on this track he is making a dark and wry commentary on his deteriorating health. As has been reported widely, Frampton has Inclusion Body Myositis, an incurable autoimmune condition that inflames and weakens the muscles and will eventually leave him unable to play guitar. In some ways, this album can be viewed as a sign of his appreciation to the blues legends on whose work he has built his life since his days in Humble Pie. The circle is being closed and Frampton, it could be said, is ‘returning home’.
Frampton’s renewed interest in this genre was sparked by recently playing many blues numbers live with Steve Miller. A little more than a week after finishing their tour, Frampton headed straight to his own Nashville studio with his band, which includes keyboardist Rob Arthur, guitarist Adam Lester, and drummer Dan Wojciechowski, along with a number of guest artists, to lay down the basic tracks.
“I have always loved to play the blues,” he said. “Over a two-week period, we recorded 23 tracks, all live in the studio. The energy of these tracks is completely different from building a track one instrument at a time. I hope you can hear and feel our enjoyment. I’m not sure if you can say we had fun playing the blues. But we definitely did!”
The album kicks off with Frampton’s sultry version of Willie Dixon’s I Just Want To Make Love To You (popularised by Muddy Waters), featuring Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman, Kim Wilson, on mouth organ and vocals. A ‘Zeppelinesque’ take on Taj Mahal’s She Caught The Katy follows, with Frampton showcasing his innovative melodic talents. Next up is a wonderful instrumental of Hoagy Carmichael’s Georgia On My Mind, which one reviewer described as “dynamic, expressive, and toneful, [on which] Peter takes his melodicism even farther than the previous track, while still maintaining a rock guitarist’s identity.”
However this great three-track intro stumbles, at least for this reviewer, with the choice of the Willie Dixon penned Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover (popularised by Bo Diddley), originally released in July 1962. Thankfully, the album quickly recovers with the outstanding All Blues (a Miles Davis track featuring Larry Carlton) and The Thrill Is Gone, with the ‘king of slide’ Sonny Landreth working his magic.
The album ends with a rendition of Don Nix’s The Same Old Blues (popularised by Moloch), which again seems to gently evoke the idea of closure for Frampton. If this is really it; it’s a fitting end.
Frampton starts his ‘Farewell Tour’ on 18 June in Catoosa, Oklahoma and finishes on 12 October in Concord, California. It is not clear what other touring he might have planned, so if you want to catch the great man while he is still in his prime and giving it his all, then this is without doubt the moment to do it.