Even a brief listen to Living Proof, Buddy Guy’s new release, shows that the 74-year-old guitarist and singer is still an unstoppable force in the blues world. Listeners unfamiliar with the artist might not have even thought about the artist’s age if he hadn’t opened the album with the track “74 Years Young,” a powerful declaration of his musical strength and tenacity.
He certainly isn’t lying. The album is full of passionate vibrancy and energy from the opener to the instrumental track “Skanky,” which unapologetically shifts back and forth from traditional blues to funk.
Guy does a lot of jumping around from more traditional blues charts to mixing with other genres, which keeps the album alive. The songs that most blatantly follow the traditional 12-bar blues form and style (“Let the Door Knob Hit Ya,” “Guess What,” “Key Don’t Fit” and “Too Soon”) function more as filler tracks than anything else, sounding almost indistinguishable from one another — all tell stories of failed relationships backed by impassioned guitar riffs and a thudding rhythm section.
But it’s when he breaks away from this form that he shines the most. A horn section drives “On the Road” forward with liveliness; a Latin feel mellows and darkens the feel of “Where the Blues Begins;” a jazz organ mimics a heartfelt church choir backing up Guy and B.B. King on “Stay Around A Little Longer.”
But the main highlights of Living Proof include “Everybody’s Got to Go,” where Guy lets sadness, and perhaps even fear, show through in his vocals when he sings about the deaths of his mother and brother, and “Where the Blues Begins,” which features Carlos Santana on guitar. The latter is the album’s first real mention of depression and broken relationships, as Guy laments “It’s that same old fight, and you know you just can’t win / Oh, this is where the blues begins.”
Although the album’s filler tracks convey messages of scorn and spite, its more emotional tracks explore a darker side, while the album first and foremost sends a positive message. Operating with a tradition that was born out of feeling down in the dumps, Living Proof resonates with optimistic themes of perseverance and looking ahead hopefully into the future. This idealism is sometimes conveyed with religious overtones as he sings “I thank the Lord for letting me stay around a little longer / Lord knows I love the life I live” in “Stay Around A Little Longer” and “I’m living proof that there’s a way / I’m living proof, kneel down and pray” in the title track.
At times, his lyrics feel a bit contrived for the sake of rhyming, and the narratives in songs can get a little long-winded. But even when words seem blasé and chord progressions get tediously repetitive, there’s no denying the raw emotion in Guy’s guitar and vocals, which creates a soulful cohesion to Living Proof that even non-blues fans can appreciate.
3.5 out of 5 stars