Review

Roosevelt Collier: wailing lap steel takes centre stage on ‘Exit 16’

Photo: Roosevelt Collier Press

Having long been something of a low-key figure in blues music, playing in a guest capacity with top-tier blues names such as Buddy Guy, The Allman Brothers and the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, South Florida’s Roosevelt Collier has stepped up with his debut solo album with Exit 16; a frequently groovy, if occasionally samey, showcase for his undeniably incendiary electric lap steel guitar playing.

Collier may not exactly be a household name (at least not yet), but his mastery of the lap steel has garnered him a respected reputation, which has led to the aforementioned session player collaborations as well as an affectionate nickname of ‘The Doctor’. Having got his start in The Lee Boys (a Miami funk and gospel band and family outfit, Collier playing alongside his cousins and uncles), Collier brings similar stylistic influence to his solo material alongside a more low-down, dirty, swamp blues vibe.

Opener ‘Sun Up Sun Down’ sets the tone nicely, with some stuttering funk bass and straightforward, heavy-handed drumming providing a bedrock for Collier to do his thing over the top. Lap steel guitar is particularly difficult to get to grips with, and his obvious command of the instrument is genuinely impressive, as he reels off the kind of free-wheeling, lightning fast, wah-wah blues soloing that marks him out as a dedicated disciple of a certain Mr. Hendrix.

The inherent twang of the lap steel gives his playing a pleasing tonal elasticity; Collier shifts pitches with ease and is fond of throwing in screaming slides from right up at the far end of the neck. The album’s title track is one of its best, with a driving, single note bass line and some of Collier’s most tastefully restrained lead work. However, that’s not to say that it’s not entertaining when he cuts loose; ‘Spike’ is a prime example of that aforementioned swamp blues style, and his wailing licks are ably backed up by the surrounding players, who do a great job throughout of laying down solid, if unsurprising, blues grooves for Collier to shred over.

Exit 16 is, after all, a Roosevelt Collier album rather than, say, a ‘Roosevelt Collier Band’ album. This primary focus on his playing can occasionally make the whole thing feel like much of a muchness; his playing, as thrilling as it often is, could maybe have done with some vocal accompaniment to really help set the songs apart from each other, as one lengthy blues instrumental jam starts to bleed into the next (most of these songs are at least six minutes long which, frankly, can feel like a minute or three too long).

Still, as this is his debut solo album after a long run of sitting in as a session player (valued and respected, but never exactly in the limelight), it is of course easy to forgive Collier some self-indulgence now he’s the commanding force upfront and centre. While it may be experienced best in small doses, to stave off mild lap steel guitar heroics fatigue, Exit 16 is a very solid album of muscular, confident blues jams which will be sure to make Collier a fair amount of new fans.

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