Two years ago on A Blues for the New World, David Clayton-Thomas updated the familiar, brassy Blood, Sweat and Tears sound with a fine set of original songs. This time around, he has released a much quieter, very intimate set, mostly devoted to familiar jazz classics.
The tone for Combo is set in the opening number, a lovely version of “As Time Goes By” that opens with the melody perfectly stated by Mark Kieswetter at the piano. A few seconds later, David starts to quietly sing with George Koller’s bass providing the musical heartbeat. This is music to get lost in at 2 o’clock in the morning.
The formula is repeated on the next song, “Nature Boy,” except that it’s Ted Quinlan’s masterful touch on the guitar that perfectly states the introductory notes of the melody. David, who can shout a lyric with the best of them, is able to go deep into these intimate songs. His versatility in that regard is particularly evident in the way he redefines his approach to Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” sung here oh so differently than on the brassy Blood, Sweat and Tears version. On Combo, David’s treatment brings out the essence of the poignant lyrics while the musicians bring out the beauty of the melody.
Other highlights include a so very soulful version of “Stormy Monday” T-Bone Walker’s blues classic that has Kieswetter doing some wonderful double duty on the piano and Hammond organ; the late Allen Toussaint’s “Freedom for the Stallion” featuring superb harmonies from Jackie Richardson; and a stomping, New Orleans-style duet with Genevieve Marentette on “The Glory of Love.”
Perhaps my favorite piece is “Smile,” the inspiring bit of good advice whose melody was written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 film, Modern Times (the lyrics were added in 1954 when the song became a hit for Nat King Cole). I especially love the interplay on this number between David’s voice and Koller’s bass.
David has surrounded himself with a group of wonderful musicians who play superbly throughout Combo. In addition to Kieswetter, Koller and Quinlan, the album features Ben Riley on drums and Colleen Allen on sax.
Pictured: Mike Regenstreif and David Clayton-Thomas at CKUT during Folk Roots/Folk Branches, June 29, 2006. (Photo: Jadro Subic)