Size, most known as the white-hot soloist from The Red Devils, offers the record as a reintroduction to listeners. Free from the restrictions of someone else’s vision, Size dishes out nearly an hour’s worth of diverse, rollicking music that stands as his word on the blues.
With a sympathetic band and some tried-and-true musical inspirations, “Can’t Lose” is the sound of a live band communicating in real time, in an intimate environment shepherded by producer/engineer (and bassist/vocalist) Jeffrey Berg.
The album is bookended by off-the-cuff acoustic guitar numbers, “Welcome” and “It’s Been A While,” which act as the preface and afterword of Size’s musical biography. In between, like a good barroom meeting between old friends, everyone gets a turn to jump in.
And jump it does on “Do The Boogie,” Size’s take on B.B. King’s “Boogie Woogie Woman.” The band’s agenda is clear, with stellar playing for the good of the song. Jeremy Berlin (Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish) takes the lead on piano — in fact, taking the first solo on the record, supported by Size’s essential rhythm work. (For the record, the album’s first electric guitar solo starts at 1:53 of track 2.)
From there, the tank is gassed up, from the finger-popping strut of “Shooty Booty,” to the on-point shuffle “Turn Back,” to the late-night, slow-fuse burn of Big Walter Horton’s “Easy” (with Texas stalwart Brian “Hash Brown” Calway on harp duties).
MORE FROM NO FIGHTIN:
- Review: ‘Return of the Funky Worm’
- Paul Size, the guitarist and the guitar
- Paul Size sells guitar licks
That’s not to say there are no guitar pyrotechnics. A highlight is the instrumental “Universal Rock,” a Chicago favorite associated with guitar innovator Earl Hooker. Playing through a series of techniques and tones, one after another, Size lays out his guitar trick bag with Buddy Guy and Otis Rush in the pockets. He changes styles quick as you can turn the radio dial, from single-string sting, to twangy Texas rave-up, to country thickness, and then back around to Chicago. It’s call-and-response, with Size doing all the talking.
Drummer Tim Brown is a secret weapon throughout, but is most important on the band’s stab at Hound Dog Taylor’s nasty shuffle “Sadie.” Brown rides the bell and pops the double-shuffle on the snare that makes “Sadie,” well, “Sadie,” building tension until Size finally drops in for a greasy outro solo. (Red Devils fans: This is the guy from the “King King” record!)
Though the styles vary, the songs are all filtered through the small-combo expertise of the players. On “Walking With Frankie,” prime Texas influence Frankie Lee Sims’ obscure number feels like lo-fi alt-rock, a la fellow northeasterners Treat Her Right. Hash Brown takes vocal duties on “Had My Fun,” perhaps the peppiest version of “Goin’ Down Slow” available on this side of the dirt.
Berg himself handles most vocals, and is at his best on “Sad Sad Lonesome Day,” a roomy slow blues canvas for his languorous drawl. Size, of course, gives a guitar masterclass, leaving plenty of space to breathe, every note in place for a reason. This tune was likely especially meaningful, as it was recorded by “Sweet” Sammy Myers, the Elmore James sideman who also later teamed with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets and raised youngsters like Size and the Moeller brothers on Texas stages.
It’s cuts like “Lonesome” that bring everything full circle for Size, who has recorded only sporadically since “King King” in 1992. And though his voice is only heard in quick studio chatter asides on some cuts, Size’s heart and hands are heard loud and clear in the musicianship and careful song selection.
- Welcome (0:55)
- Do The Boogie (3:34)
- Shooty Booty (2:25)
- Universal Rock (2:56)
- Turn Back (4:44)
- Walkin’ With Frankie (3:53)
- Easy (4:57)
- Sadie (4:02)
- Keep Playin’ (0:42)
- Berlin Paul (2:11)
- Had My Fun (2:42)
- Shake Up (3:09)
- Sad Sad Lonesome Day (6:00)
- You’ve Got To Lose (3:33)
- Stranger Blues (4:45)
- It’s Been A While (2:14)
- Paul Size: Guitar
- Hash Brown: Harp, guitar, vocals (track 11)
- Jeremy Berlin: Piano
- Jeffrey Berg: Upright bass, electric bass, vocals
- Tim Brown: Drums
Produced and Engineered by Jeffrey Berg at Walking Stick Studios. Released by Feffrey Records, March 5, 2021.
One final thought, the record’s title: “Can’t Lose Playing The Blues.” On first read, it sounds like affirmation: “I can’t lose when I’m playing the blues.” Coupled with the cover photo — which looks to have been taken from The Red Devils’ 2017 European reunion tour — another take might be, “I cannot give up ‘playing these blues.'” We hope this means that Paul Size plans not to let decades go between releases anymore.