When you’ve been pursuing something for more than fifty years it’s natural for your work to be somewhat retrospective. That’s the effect that Buddy Guy’s expansive career of over fifty years has had on his 28th studio album, Born To Play Guitar. It’s a personal statement about where he’s at with a couple of acknowledgements to his greatest inspirations.
The opening title track sets the tone of the album. It’s a slow blues with growling vocals, dynamic guitar, and lyrics that aren’t exactly modest, but Buddy Guy puts his guitar chops where his mouth is. It’s a dedication not only to his love for playing, but for the life satisfaction he gets from it: “I’m gonna keep on playing and on my dying day/A polka dot guitar will be rusting on my grave.”
There are a few guest spots on the album that contribute to a variation of feelings between tracks. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top appears Wear You Out, a heavier rock tune with a menacing but simple recurring riff. British singer Joss Stone adds a jazzy edge to the soulful track (Baby) You Got What It Takes and Kim Wilson lends his prowess on the harmonica to a couple of shuffles: Too Late and Kiss Me Quick.
Van Morrison provides a verse and choruses to Flesh & Bone; a touching and powerful song dedicated to the late blues legend B.B. King that combines a song structure more in Morrison’s style with guitar lead that features some classic B.B. licks. The album finishes on an even more sentimental and deeply personal song penned to Guy’s mentor and inspiration Muddy Waters, Come Back Muddy. It marks a significant contrast to the album’s confident opening, with its mournful and nostalgic vocals and acoustic blues guitar with piano.
It seems a fitting end to tie up an album that ranges from riff based tunes, to slow blues, Delta-style slide blues, and shuffles. Over the fourteen tracks Buddy Guy shows that he was indeed Born To Play Guitar through his unmistakable Chicago-blues sensibilities that have been in influential bridge between generations of blues guitarists.