John Scofield has had a long career in music having showcased his excellent guitar playing in diverse settings ranging from making music with Miles Davis to Medeski, Martin and Wood. His guitar playing throughout his decades-long run of albums and concerts has been lauded in jazz and rock circles, and is a style that you can pick out once you have heard it. So, after all of this music being made, what to do next, an album of electric guitar gospel and soul? Well, yes.
“Piety Street” is the wonderful new album by Scofield that focuses on classic gospel songs played with passion and soul. What makes this record come together is the all-star backing band that Scofield has put together that includes New Orleans legend George Porter Jr. on bass, New Orleans-based keyboardist and lead vocalist Jon Cleary, drummer Ricky Fataar, Harry Connick Jr. and Preservation Hall Jazz band alumnus Shannon Powell on percussion and New Orleans jazz vocalist John Boutte.
The album begins with a funky and soulful rendition of Dorothy Love Coates’ “That’s Next.” Then the band takes on the traditional standard “Motherless Child” and does it with a sweet groove over which Cleary’s lead vocals and Scofield’s expert licks take off. Scofield’s guitar has a lighter touch to it on this album, yet he still gets the chops in. About 4 minutes into “Motherless Child” the band kicks into a reggae groove for the next minute and a half that finds Cleary and Scofield playfully trading back and forth.
Scofield adds a couple of self-penned instrumentals on the CD, “It’s A Big Army” and “But I Like The Message,” both upbeat in a gospel way. The band steps up to gospel music’s worldly cousin, the blues, on T. A. Dorsey’s “The Old Ship of Zion” and they break out a bit of a funk groove on another T. A. Dorsey cut, “Never Turn Back.” Says Scofield in the liner notes; “I began wondering if the world really needed another CD of 12 bar blues tunes. Gospel music is the fraternal twin to R&B and I’ve been a huge fan so I decided to record some of the pieces I like the best. Although I don’t embrace any formal religion, who can deny the power of these messages?” Amen!