Derrick Procell — Hello Mojo! (Catfood Records)
It’s not often that a vocalist stands out – instantly– in the blues category, but this one does – all the more because you’ve likely not heard of him. With his first release, Why I Choose To Sing The Blues (’16), Procell proves he’s got the right kind of friends, joined by Eddie Shaw, Bob Margolin and Billy Branch. His latest is helmed by no less than Zac Harmon, who contributes mightily on guitar across three tracks while the label’s band, The Rays, do far more than merely play back-up on these nine sturdy originals (self-penned or co-written with Terry Abrahamson or Bob Trenchard) and lone cover. Indeed, the chemistry between these players is beyond commendable.
Once a local hero in the Milwaukee area, Procell has fronted bands (Arroyo), written ad jingles and done voice-overs when he wasn’t writing songs, playing harp and piano. Transplanted to nearby Deerfield, a north shore suburb of Chicago, Procell has sharpened his focus towards his own music, recording this new material in El Paso, Texas – home to bassist/label boss, Trenchard’s Catfood Records studio – a move which has has done nothing but amplify the overall passion behind this project.
“Skin in the Game” is the ultimate choice to kick off this powerful, extremely confident, sophomore release – delivered with all the energy and enthusiasm usually reserved for more seasoned pros. Except these guys are seasoned pros and the fact that Procell’s been singing since he was 16 is immediately audible. In addition to Harmon’s significant contribution, The Rays feature Johnny McGhee (guitar), Richy Puga (drums), Dan Ferguson (keyboards) together with a blistering horn section with Andy Roman (tenor/alto sax), Nick Flood (baritone/tenor sax), Mike Middleton (trumpet) and Frank Otero (trombone). To classify this squad as skin-tight doesn’t quite do them enough justice as these players mesh beautifully and this music is hard-played versus over-produced. Even better, Procell’s soulful growl of a voice lends the power of rock and smooth soul to the majesty of well-played blues and is never lost in the crowd – clearly getting top billing in each song in addition to three, note-perfect backup singers in Sueann Carwell, Meredith Colby and Jessica Ivey. They lend a deliciously rich layer of vocal support to both underline and add effective contrast to Procell’s self-assured, studied baritone.
The title track, showcasing Ferguson’s piano and the horn section, provides Procell with a Calypso-esque groove, punctuated by impeccable horns, as the singer struts smart lyrics in the direction of the supernatural theme, aided by the luscious contributions of his backup singers. Cue additional B3 from Ferguson and strong sax and trombone solos from (guests) Peter Neumer and Steve Duncan. Despite so much going on – the track swings – and hard.
Zac Harmon returns for “The Contender,” a tougher-sounding track proffering sinewy, snarling guitar and a wall of B3. The contrast between lead and slick backup vocals sweetens the deal, while the horns take a break. This is essentially a brawny, blues-rock composition, Procell’s heart fully invested into the material with lyrics that entirely hit their mark.
Procell adds expressive harp to the intro and heart of “Broken Promise” – lighter fare which benefits from piano, (guest) Munyungo Jackson’s strong percussion and McGhee’s funk guitar before the chorus erupts in a lavish collection of horns, harp and perky backup singers.
A true highlight track is “A Tall Glass of You,” name-checking a Who’s Who of bar favorites in the name of sexual conquest. Puga’s sturdy backbeat helms Ferguson’s electric keyboards while the combination of Procell’s vocals in tandem with his background singers bring the thirst-inducing lyrics to its proper climax.
The uptown horn introduction to “I Can’t Say No” sets up the singers for a track which depends largely on its soulful call-and-answer chorus, while a well-placed sax solo add interest. Yet, it’s stronger songs like the jaw-dropping “Color of an Angel” which distinguish this record from the multitudes. Again, zeroing in on heartfelt lyrics provide Procell with something substantial to bite into – and his more soulful side seems his strongest suit, as accompanying B3 and tasteful guitar sink the hooks in even deeper.
Procell’s underutilized harp returns for the infectious “Baby I’m Lost” while Ferguson’s electric keys (which give way to B3) and understated rhythm section practically reclaim George Benson’s take on “On Broadway” at times, yet it’s the honeyed meld of lead and backup vocals which create a chorus you wish would go on forever.
Entirely reinventing The Kinks’ “Who’ll be the Next in Line” takes the form of a page borrowed from Steely Dan with its off-centre, horn-driven groove and precision guitar work-out by Johnny McGhee. An arrangement with big teeth, The Rays strut their jazz proficiency as the horn section shines brightly.
Closing with the gentle soul of “Bittersweet Memory,” the entire band works in tandem with Procell’s lead and those incredible backup singers to deliver a smooth-yet-stirring track, incorporating the best of McGhee’s tasteful guitar accompaniment, an unidentified soprano sax solo and are – all-in-all – a complete complement to Purcell’s lion-hearted, vocal prowess throughout.
You’ll find no shortage of mojo on this head-turning release from a singer who more than deserves wide-spread attention for this Herculean effort. Not only fun to listen to, Hello Mojo! has the power to rejuvenate the spirits of anyone who delights in great music played well. Find more information here: https://www.derrickprocellmusic.com