Music Reviews
1:45 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

At 71, Elvin Bishop Is Still Vigorous, And Can Do Wrong Right

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. If you've seen the new hit movie "Guardians Of The Galaxy," you've heard some old Elvin Bishop music. His 1975 hit "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" is on the soundtrack. Bishop has been making blues rock with a wry sense of humor since the '60s. Rock critic Ken Tucker says Bishop's new album called "Can't Even Do Wrong Right" offers more of the same, but with a forcefulness that makes it sound completely fresh.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T EVEN DO WRONG RIGHT")

ELVIN BISHOP: (Singing) I never cared for the name of Maurice. He's all the time running from the police. Every time you see him up to some old dirty trick and he's got the nerve to think he's slick. But he ain't, he messes up every time. Oh, to tell you the truth, the dude can't even do wrong right.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: With his ragged vocals and often comic scenarios standing in contrast to his piercingly precise guitar playing, Elvin Bishop has managed to sustain a career as a most jovial white bluesman for more than half a century now. He's not hiding his age either - at 71, he freely admits he has no truck with modern technology and is old-school.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD SCHOOL")

BISHOP: (Singing) Don't fool with no Facebook, no twitters and tweets. Call me on the phone if you want to talk to me. I'm old-school, old-school, old-school - that's what it is - old-school. Yeah, call me on the phone man - telephones as high-tech as I get. Now don't send me no e-mail, send me a female.

TUCKER: I think for the sake of a good corny joke and a rhyme, a lot of women will forgive that line - don't send me an e-mail, send me a female. Good corny jokes are what have made Elvin Bishop's career so enduring and so much fun. Early on, after he'd broken away from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the '60s, he figured out that making raucous party music was a different path to popularity. His biggest hit single remains the gleefully florid "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" from 1975. The lead vocal on that one was handled by his friend Mickey Thomas, who used to be in Jefferson Starship. The new album reunites Bishop and Thomas on one new song - the typically astute "Let Your Woman Have Her Way."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET YOUR WOMAN HAVE HER WAY")

ELVIN BISHOP AND MICKEY THOMAS: (Singing) Love, honor and obey. That's what you hear all the preachers say. But let me tell you brother, you know when he says those words, well it's not just, he's not just talking to her no, no, no. Because nine times out of ten, the trouble between women and men will all be OK if you let your woman have her way.

TUCKER: Mickey Thomas sounds pretty on that song. But to my ears, once is enough on an Elvin Bishop album. I prefer the sly, fake sloppiness, the deceptively loose, but always tight sound of a Bishop-sung party song like "Dancin'." It's got a great chorus you can sing along to, and Bishop even works in something of a polka rhythm here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCIN'")

BISHOP: (Singing) With the moon shining down, dancing. With the music nice and loud, dancing. Dancing, with the sweetest girl in town, dancing, if you're spinning 'round and 'round.

TUCKER: If we want to frame Elvin Bishop's music in a contemporary context, you could fairly say he was a precursor to today's so-called bro country music, in which young male country singers churn out song after song about getting in their trucks to go party with pretty gals. But few of those young whippersnappers also feature the stuff that makes Elvin Bishop such a continuing gas - the raspy chuckle in his singing and the sharp sting of his guitar. He invites you to contradict the title of this album, to insist that he can do wrong right, just right.

GROSS: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed Elvin Bishop's new album called "Can't Even Do Wrong Right." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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