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CD REVIEW: Roy Rogers - Split Decision
By Chip Withrow - 06/02/2009 - 04:58 PM EDT

Artist: Roy Rogers
Album: Split Decision
Label: Blind Pig Records
Genre: Blues/Roots Rock
Sounds Like: John Lee Hooker, Allman Brothers
Technical Grade: 10/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 9/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 8/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: River of Tears, Someone Like You, I Would Undo Anything
CD Review: On Split Decision, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Roy Rogers is proof that blues is indeed a wide-ranging genre. Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings deliver everything from countrified organic blues to Allmans-style jamming excursions. Rogers weaves his wicked slide guitar licks and Stax soul-style voice through every song, and he wrote or co-wrote every cut.

Rogers has an extensive resume, and while he draws on his experience with the likes of John Lee Hooker for such down-and-dirty numbers as “Calm Before the Storm” and “Patron Saint of Pain,” he also shows a modern touch and an ear for hooks on such tunes as “Little Queen Bee” and “River of Tears.”

“River of Tears” is a highlight, and its upbeat pace belies its title. Rogers’ guitar slips and slides from the start, and his voice is authoritatively soulful. It is followed by “Bitter Rain,” a heavy, heavy number full of sinister yet transcendent fretwork.

The Rhythm Kings are bassist Steve Ehrmann and drummer Billy Lewis, and they are joined by some impressive guests. World music guitarist Ottmar Liebert (I remember a friend telling me years ago that I must listen to him) adds a deft touch to the bittersweet “Your Sweet Embrace.” On another instrumental, the jazz-funk “Rite of Passage,” George Brooks contributes sax that sounds like a whole horn section, and then Rogers kills his short solo when the song shifts gears. The instrumental “Walkin’ the Levee,” with more smoking Brooks sax, draws the album to a funky close. Phillip Aaberg rolls barrelhouse piano all over “Patron Saint of Pain” and adds keyboards throughout.

The country-ish “Someone Like You” sounds like a tune Dickey Betts might have contributed to the Allman Brothers. “Requiem for a Heavyweight” cooks with a hipster bop vibe, and it is followed by the beautifully mournful “I Would Undo Anything,” a soul burner that is turned from very good to great by Rogers’ playing.

When I first listened to this release, I dug the music but found some of the lyrics a bit clichéd. No big deal, I thought, and not uncommon in the blues genre. But the Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque romp “Holy Ghost Moan” tells a cautionary tale very succinctly, which a rocker like that calls for.

There is enough rootsy blues on Split Decision to satisfy the most traditional fan, and all kinds of interesting takes on the blues genre. And every song seems to come from deep in the souls of Roy Rogers and his bandmates.

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