Jimmy Herring’s Lifeboat – his debut solo excursion released in 2008 – established his talents as a bandleader. Herring’s new Subject To Change Without Notice finds him even more comfortable in that role – and looking to simply his guitar with some very talented friends.
Produced by John Keane (who also lends luscious pedal steel to a few tracks) Subject To Change Without Notice features the core Jimmy Herring Band lineup (Herring; keyboardist Matt Slocum; bassist Neal Fountain; drummer Jeff Sipe) with a killer roster of guests. Bassist Etienne Mbappe and drummer Tyler Greenwell swap off duties throughout the album with Fountain and Sipe, and the various combinations of the four prove to be equally adventurous and unfazed by the music’s genre bends. B3 legend Ike Stubblefield is on hand, as is saxmaster Bill Evans; Steep Canton Rangers’ Nicky Sanders plays some wicked fiddle; Bela Fleck brings his banjo to the party; and Jimmy’s son Carter adds some just-right cello lushness to a couple of cuts.
“Red Wing Special” gets things going: Herring lets loose with fine Django-Reinhardt-meets-Danny-Gatton-style picking; Sanders flies formation with him, channeling Stephan Grappelli while providing some grace and sass of his own. The Gatton comparison is an easy one to make again later on as Herring and Fleck lead the romp through the happy porch stomp of “Curfew”.
While the cover of Jimmy McGriff’s “Miss Poopie” is pure keyboard porn (Slocum mans the clavinet while Stubblefield is somewhere between terrifying and brilliant on the organ), Herring manages to work in a totally wild-ass guitar break, as well. Speaking of keys, check out Slocum’s double-duty work on “Bilgewater Blues” – his organ and clavinet infuse the tune with big dollops of funk. “12 Keys” works its way through the musical alphabet, Herring and Slocum making a challenging musical jaunt sound effortless. “Emerald Garden” is a lovely little acoustic spot in the sun: Mbappe and Sipe provide ever-so-gentle rhythms while Keane’s pedal steel and Slocum’s keys add soft color behind Herring’s wistful-sounding guitar. “Kaleidoscope Carousel” is as advertised – a shape-shifting roundabout melody that manages to stay grounded while doing some serious sonic explorations at the same time.
Bill Evans’ sax is the ideal dance partner for Herring’s guitar on the album’s cover of John McLaughlin’s “Hope” – a great chance to appreciate Herring’s master of his own horn-like phrasing. And “Aberdeen” is the theme song just waiting for a movie to be made behind it; Herring’s guitar simply soars with a fine blast of gospelish B3 from Stubblefield at the tune’s midpoint to bless things properly.
The album’s unexpected pleasure is another cover: George Harrison’s “Within You Without You”. While the tune is familiar to anyone who’s put an ear to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band it’s one of those Beatle songs that tends to go overlooked: “Oh, yeah – isn’t that on …?” Herring and his band pay loving tribute to the original, keeping its soul safe and sound while they take it to new places. (Listen to Fountain and Sipe providing rhythmic grandeur to the weavings of Jimmy and son Carter during the song’s opening minutes.)
With the song’s melody and vibe solidly established, the band launches into uncharted territory with Herring leading the way. He works his Strat tastefully, coaxing out passages of sound that go beyond the limits of strings and fingers. This is more than shred, boys and girls – this is world soul. When the flying carpet touches down for a revisit of the original theme before the song’s close, you’ll know you’ve been somewhere.
That’s the deal with Subject To Change Without Notice as an album, actually: it covers a lot of ground and takes you to many different places. And Jimmy Herring and friends prove to be great tour guides.