If the blues is to survive and flourish, it will be because of artists like John "J.B." Bigham, aka the Soul of John Black. The multi-instrumentalist is a veteran of both Miles Davis' last band and Fishbone, and he's worked with Eminem, Dr. Dre, and Bruce Hornsby. As you might guess from the diverse resume, Bigham's music pushes all sorts of envelopes. Bluesy without being straight-ahead blues, his sophomore album is an eclectic yet focused stroll through roots styles with touches of tape loops and liberal doses of Sly Stone-influenced funk and soul.
Most importantly, Bigham writes quality material with cool, rolling hooks that only occasionally approach typical blues fare. Most of the choruses are memorable enough to stick in your head after a single spin. "The Moon Blues" takes its cue from slow blues, but the addition of Bigham's Al Green-inflected vocal shifts the tune toward sexy R&B perfect for late-night romance. "Fire Blues" finds a hypnotic groove in a repeated riff as sensual as anything conjured by Prince in his most persuasive lover-man guise.
Bigham unplugs for the raw Delta vibe of "Moanin'," where he does exactly that for almost three minutes. It's a testament to his talent that he holds our attention with no words, other instruments, or recognizable song structure. Nothing is rushed here, but nothing is extended past its breaking point, either. The field-holler chant of "The Hole" recalls old Smithsonian recordings until Bigham adds a shoulder-swaying backbeat that brings the song into the present day. The wah-wah guitar of "Feelin's" chugs along on an easy funk beat that stays on low boil but raises the listener's body temperature through sensual, gospel-edged backing vocals. "Don't it make you feel?" Bigham implores repeatedly, only to answer, "I know it makes you feel." And of course, he's right.