Title: The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp
Artist: Toronzo Cannon
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 20, 2019
To the uninitiated, Toronzo Cannon might seem to be a relatively new arrival to the blues scene, but he has been paying his dues for years. A Chicago native who did not begin playing guitar until he was 22, Cannon started out as a sideman for local musicians such as Tommy McCracken and Wayne Baker Brooks, but he has been fronting his own bands since 2003. Cannon’s new release, The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp, is his second album for Alligator Records and follows on the heels of The Chicago Way, voted the best blues album of 2016 by readers of Living Blues magazine. On his newest outing, Cannon is joined by veteran keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, who has performed with Chicago artists such as Buddy Guy and recorded with countless others. Rounding out his rhythm section are Melvin “Pooky Styx” Carlisle on drums and Marvin Little on bass.
Toronzo Cannon proves on this album that he is a triple threat as a musician—he’s an excellent guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Cannon’s lead guitar style bears traces of Albert King, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, and Albert Collins, yet he eludes pure mimicry and displays his own individual voice. Despite this individuality, Cannon says this album is less about the guitar solos and more about the twelve original songs. By incorporating variations in tempo, time signature, and instrumentation, he creates a fair amount of stylistic variety for a blues project while still paying homage to Chicago-style blues. Cannon’s lyrics also dig deep, pointing out hypocrisy on the title track and calling out the objectification of women in “The Silence of My Friends,” a song with a strong gospel influence. Though it’s not all good-time music, there are still plenty of up-tempo songs such as “The Chicago Way,” featuring a driving, up-tempo boogie groove with lyrics devoid of social commentary.
The album opens with the rocking “Get Together or Get Apart,” which from its onset highlights Cannon’s powerful guitar playing. Moving on, the title track pays homage to the 1970s with its wah-wah-driven guitar rhythm. One of the strongest tracks is “She Loved Me (Again),” a mid-tempo blues in triple meter that features ample amounts of lead guitar. Cannon stretches out as a guitar player on this track, giving the listener an idea of what it would be like to see him perform live. “The First 24” is another stand out track with its acoustic slide guitar that illustrates Cannon’s diversity as a player. Other tracks worth noting include “Ordinary Woman,” a blues song with alternating 24-bar sections joined together by a bridge. This atypical formal arrangement shows that Cannon is not tied down to any sort of preconceived patterns in his songwriting, but instead writes the way he sees fit. One of the more interesting tracks is “I’m Not Scared” that opens with a piano reminiscent of “Dear Prudence” by the Beatles. And while that might evoke the expectation of a mellow song, Cannon’s fuzz-laden guitar enters later in the track, taking the song to another level.
The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp is another strong release from Cannon featuring tasteful guitar playing, soulful vocals, and quality songwriting. Though modern blues has often suffered from a general lack of great songwriting, that’s not the case here. Cannon continues to refine his craft, offering songs that are stylistically varied and socially conscious. On this album, Toronzo Cannon is at the top of his game, and this is a game worth catching for fans of blues.
Reviewed by Joel Roberts