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Just in case anyone in the blues field is the slightest bit foggy about what Tommy McCoy has been up to in sunny Florida over the last few decades, Late in the Lonely Night should rectify that pronto.
The talented guitarist has made recordings in the past with high-profilers Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Commander Cody, Lucky Peterson, and Double Trouble’s rhythm section, but this set showcases Tommy and his working band (anchored by bassist Big Al Razz and drummer Pug Baker) doing what they do best: contemporary electric blues. McCoy’s confident vocals and concise, stinging guitar connect like a laser beam from first note to last. He’s a strong songwriter too; there are only two non-originals on this entire set (well-chosen ones at that).
McCoy and Earwig Records boss Michael Frank first crossed paths when both were aboard the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in October 2010. Frank followed that up by stopping by one of McCoy’s gigs in Tommy’s St. Petersburg stomping grounds five months later. “I was impressed with Tommy’s performance, his guitar playing in a trio format, his way of engaging the audience, and with his well-thought out mix of his tunes and covers,” says Michael. The two crafted a deal for this self-produced album as well as McCoy’s back catalog.
Listening to this set makes it obvious what Michael heard in Tommy’s repertoire. There’s a strong sense of tradition within the Warren, Ohio native’s up-to-the-minute approach; his primary influences on guitar include B.B., Albert, and Freddie King and T-Bone Walker.
The steady-simmering title track opens the set in an atmospheric minor-key mode before McCoy lays down the law on the sleek and clever “My Guitar Won’t Play Nothin’ But The Blues.” “I’ve got a big old Gibson guitar; it has paid its share of dues,” declares Tommy, who writes from personal experience on the strutting shuffle “Cars, Bars & Guitars.” “I’ve still got a yard full of cars and a room full of guitars!” he laughs. The saucy “Never Shoulda Listened” is a swaggering vocal duet with Karyn Denham powered by Liz Pennock’s muscular barrelhouse piano, while the funky “Angel On My Shoulder, Devil On My Back” is driven by Baker’s marching drum groove and spiced by the pungent slide guitar of young Joel Tatangelo.
“I try to point out the dichotomy between positive and negative,” says McCoy of its storyline. “It’s got kind of an eerie feel to it.” Rick Hatfield’s harmonica winds through the tempo-shifting “Scattered And Smothered” (no feuding between Hatfield and McCoy here), while the R&B-tinged “Language Of Love” sports more tasty female vocal backing from Denham. There’s also room for a lighthearted “Dance Your Pants Off,” and “Space Master” features high-energy give-and-take between Tommy’s axe and Pug’s traps. “We do that, and the crowd just goes nuts,” says Tommy. The introspective “Life’s Tides” is a distinct departure from the rest of the disc. “That’s what I call one of my inspirational songs,” says Tommy of the latter. “It started off as a poem.”
The only remakes on the album stem from the same fertile source: the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose, fellow Floridians who scored early ‘70s R&B smashes with their “Too Late To Turn Back Now” and “Treat Her Like A Lady.” “Those two covers are ones I like to do,” he says. “I tried to make them Tommy McCoy versions, instead of trying to do it like them with the backup singers. I did it with guitar instead of vocals.”
01 - Late In The Lonely Night 04:02
02 - Angel On My Shoulder, Devil On My Back 04:49
03 - Never Shoulda Listened 03:46
04 - Too Late To Turn Back Now 03:29
05 - Space Master 04:12
06 - Language Of Love 04:39
07 - Cars, Bars, And Guitars 03:30
08 - Life's Tides 02:45
09 - Dance You Pants Off 04:21
10 - Treat Her Like A Lady 03:28
11 - My Guitar Won't Play Nothin' But The Blues 02:45
Gamble for more Tommy McCoy