“Hip-shakin’ deep blues and rock ‘n’ roll – just as I like it. No weak titles. The better ones are: “You Don’t Love Me” – a big band without the jive, “Just Your Fool” (Little Walter) – real deep blues, “Friend” – a slow ’60’s Elvis, “Obviously” and “Miami Tammi” – rock ‘n’ roll ala Elvis, and the good covers of “Just A Little Bit” (Rosco Gordon), “Boppin’ The Blues” (Carl Perkins), Marie Marie (The Blasters), and Takin’ Care Of Business (Freddy King). Can’t wait for the next CD.”
– Bernard Boyat, Le Cri Du Coyote, France
“Apparently, there is a phenomenon of a new man in America. An authentic American original, Lightnin’ Charlie, with his Stetson hat and Fender Stratocaster, has hit the mark with a FANTASTIC new CD, “A New Leaf” on Blue Chip Records. Lightnin’ kicks the door down with rockin’ covers like Carl Perkins’ “Boppin’ The Blues” and Dave Alvin’s “Marie Marie” – a cover version of this song that finally meets with my approval; also very good versions of Chicago blues classics like “Just Your Fool” with Harmonica Todd on harmonica, and the gospel-tinged tracks “Down In The Alley” by the Clovers and the traditional “Come By Here”. But the real treats are his own original masterpieces such as the title track, “A New Leaf”, and “The Blues Are To Blame” which shows he has the makings of a true blues master, and the steamy and cool “Obviously” and “Miami Tammi”.
GREAT ALBUM! **** (4 stars)
– ROOTSTIME, Belgium
“A stellar release – “A New Leaf” shines as bright and bold as autumn colors. Contains so many great cuts, it’s hard to single out one or two as standouts.” – Bristol Herald
“The best blues-based CD I have ever heard, including all the classic blues recordings. There is always some deficiency in all records, but not in this one. Listening to “A New Leaf” from beginning to end is truly a musical experience.” – Blue Rapture
“A unique combination of gutsy vocals, smokin’ guitar, and high-energy showmanship. Lightnin’ Charlie was simply amazing – not because he’d play his guitar behind his head and with his teeth, but because of the way he could make it sound. An exceptional guitarist.” – Carolina Blues Fest
Tennessee’s Lightnin’ Charlie proves a versatile guitarist and a smooth singer on a A New Leaf (Blue Chip 3371). Musicians will dig his range of punchy tones, and most listeners will enjoy the way his band (and engineer) blur distinctions between vintage and modern. Top-notch material – A Plus; Charlie covers Junior Wells, Rosco Gordon, and Magic Sam and submits fine originals like the jumping “Obviously” and the front-porch acoustic tune “Blues Are To Blame.” The backwards shuffle “Miami Tammi”; the Johnny Watson-inspired ballad “Friend,” where stinging guitar bounces off cooing background vocals; and a drum-less reading of Freddy King’s “Taking Care Of Business” stand out. – Blues Revue Dec/Jan 2006
“In the concert setting, Lightnin’ Charlie & The Upsetters are known for long-winded sets of blues music that sometimes skirts jazz and rock’n’roll territories. While his shows run the gamut from a slow boil to torrential fury, Lightnin’ Charlie keeps the temperature hot. A deft instrumentalist, Mr. Charlie performs astounding guitar histrionics that will amaze everyone from blues neophytes to the most studied guitar afficionados.”
For those who have enjoyed Lightnin’ Charlie Dolinger’s high-octane live sets over the last fifteen years, his new album A New Leaf is precisely what you hoped for. Yet it may not be what you expected.
What Lightnin’ Charlie has delivered is a powerful, polished and fresh original release. In an age where the increasingly commercialized Americana genre seems more bloated than ever- here is a release that truly sounds American.
Although Charlie is known as a blues singer (but anyone who has seen his live shows understands just how diverse he can be) this album demonstrates that Charlie is at his best when he is turning out nuclear-powered hybrid music, somewhere between classic rock’n’roll and Chicago blues.
Yet nothing on this CD sounds derivative. Instead, from the moment you hear the opening notes of Magic Sam’s “You Don’t Love Me” you know that Charlie is working from the deepest respect for the music. That song, which is a straight cover (indeed one you may hear at one of his shows), has never sounded crisper than here.
Lightnin’ Charlie, however, demonstrates that he can reinterpret a classic with originality as well as style. Nowhere is this more apparent than on his remake of “Down in the Alley”. Covering this song requires bravery. Dolinger is neither intimidated nor overawed by the past versions of Elvis or the Clovers. Instead of offering a slick copy of the originals, he delivers a vibrant delta blues version that leaves us hungry for more. There is no imitation here – it is all honest and personal, and listening to Charlie’s new interpretations of these old classics will give the listener a real sense of his lifelong love affair with American music.
Yet the strength of A New Leaf lay not in its cover songs, but in Dolinger’s original material. In the midst of the powerful remakes are superb originals such as “Friend” where Dolinger’s silky smooth vocals are backed by bassist George Hammonds’ game of slip’n’slide, while the background vocal strands of Charisma riff behind them, Jordanaires-style.
Charlie’s songwriting works hard at being original instead of imitative of the classic blues, soul and rock records that he obviously adores. “If heartaches was money you know I’d be Rockefeller,” Dolinger sings. Although the line sounds like pure Johnny Cash, the music is pure Chicago. Together it is refreshingly original.
If A New Leaf sounds slick and tight it is because of the care and detail that Dolinger has put into making this album. This CD has been over three years in the making with Charlie recording songs between his many live shows and family responsibilities. Charlie reflects, “When I started A New Leaf, in the summer of 2002, my wife and I had just bought a house and naturally we had to renovate it from top-to-bottom. Our son Sam was born three weeks after we moved in, and as it’s been reported often in the press, I am ‘Mister Mom’ to my two boys who are only eighteen months apart while my wife works.”
“At the same time, I am playing five nights per week, driving four hundred and fifty miles per week to get there and that’s when I started making this record. So I was pretty covered up and I had to go in to Classic [recording studio] as time and energy permitted. I sure picked a tough time to start producing my masterpiece!”
“It was three grueling years,” Charlie said recently, complete with playful huffing and puffing. “It took a long time because I didn’t want to owe anyone for this one, artistically or financially. I made the commitment to myself, much to the chagrin of others who would’ve preferred another Lightnin’ Charlie ˜fast-food’ CD, to stay in there as long as it took to get what I wanted – a record that I could be proud of for the rest of my life. I needed a CD that sounds like Lightnin’ Charlie and represents Lightnin’ Charlie as an artist. And baby I got it!”
Dolinger brought the musicians in to record, some from as far away as Chicago, presided over the recording and mixing, layout and design, and even did the photos on the CD himself. “I had another set of ears throughout this project, my friend and blues brother in Chicago, Harmonica Todd Levine, who helped me every step of the way. We built this record from the bottom up.” But Lightnin’ Charlie fans, affectionately called “Lightnin’ Bugs”, will appreciate that A New Leaf is a record done his way. “From the beginning I refused to compromise on anything,” he added.
And it sounds like a CD with no compromises. It is fast and fun, with a deep sense of and appreciation for its influences. Dolinger makes no apologies, this is the record that he chose to make and the listener will be grateful that he did. For those who don’t realize what it takes to make Lightnin’ Charlie into the relevant recording artist he has become, he tells us on the album, “I am what I am – and the blues are to blame.”
– Aaron Crawford Loafer Magazine