I’ve had the good pleasure of catching Chicago-based jazz guitarist Bobby Broom live a number times, including no less than three shows in one year when he opened for Steely Dan. I’ve always been amazed by Broom’s tone, economy and arranging prowess. On his current release Soul Fingers, all of these elements are evident – and much more.
Produced by music legend Steve Jordon, Soul Fingers features Bobby Broom with organist Ben Paterson and drummer Kobie Watkin. Additionally, Jordon picks up the drum sticks on a track. The album, built around rock and pop covers, is surprisingly cohesive and engaging. Part of its charm is no doubt due to Jordon’s acumen behind the boards, but another large part is the interaction of Broom with the Organi-Sation.
The band was originally created after a call came from Steely Dan for Broom and his “organ group” to open their shows in 2014. They have a telepathy which is quite evident from the first notes of the opening song “Come Together,” Bobby Broom’s interpretation of the Beatles’ classic. Over the backdrop of Paterson’s Hammond B-3 organ, Broom’s guitar sings with a theme that is both familiar and different. Paterson’s smoking solo brings it all together. “Come Together” swings with authority, and seems all too brief.
“Ode to Billie Joe” offers something different. Ron Blake and Chris Rogers add a little spice to this Bobbie Gentry hit, playing sax and trumpet, respectively. Broom’s arrangement is jaunty and the song benefits from guest Justefan Thomas on vibes. Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” is a nice shuffle with a time signature change and effective solos by Broom and Peterson. The trouble with Broom covering this particular track is that it makes you envision an entire Steely Dan cover album from the Organi-Sation. Here, Paterson’s solo bounces of the shuffle played by Watkins and Broom elegant lead lines are intertwined with his tasty rhythm work.
The well-worn “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is here, too. Broom’s guitar seems faithful to the main melody, while Sergio Pires and Luciano Antonio contribute acoustic guitars. Broom is even encouraged to add bass on the song; percussion was also included for a larger feel. Speaking of well worn, Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” is also represented. The MOR classic shines partly due to Broom’s arranging chops, and partly to due to drummer Watkins’ perfectly off-kilter touch on the song. Unlike “While My Guitar Gently Weeps, “Summer Breeze” proves less is better.
“Eyes of Faith” breaks with the album’s theme as it is Bobby Broom’s sole original composition. This, however, is in no way a negative, as Broom has proven he’s as capable a composer as he is an arranger. “Eyes of Faith” moves with authority and grace, wearing a gospel veneer which lays evenly over its jazz underpinnings. It’s simply beautiful, with an optimism represented by the song’s main theme and a grace supported by the string arrangement of Matt Jones. “Eyes of Faith” is my favorite song on Soul Fingers, which is quite an accomplishment given the classics surrounding it.
“Get Ready” ties together Broom’s arrangements of the Temptations favorite with a subtle horn chart and percussion by Stanley Jordon, Sammy Figueroa and Kobie Watkins. Add Watkins’ march-like drumming and a conga solo turn, and this cover becomes something worthy of the original R&B classic. Soul Fingers draws to a close with another unlikely cover, Bread’s “Guitar Man.” Their George Benson-influenced reading is another wistful journey with a deceptively simple arrangement that’s much more than meets the eye.
The song and, indeed, the entirety of Soul Fingers is brilliantly engineered by Andy Taub, whose work compliments Steve Jordan’s production yet retains the live in-studio feel of a project which was recorded in just five days. Is this my favorite Bobby Broom album? No, that honor goes to 2014’s My Shining Hour. However, Bobby Broom and the Organi-Sation deliver a compelling, thoroughly entertaining piece of work.