4BN-Guy Blues Turn

1 November 2014
Written by Sean Willoughby

Guy Bélanger 
Blues Turn

Photo by Phil Brisse
Guy Bélanger has covered the spectrum of musical directions over his 40 year career. He has honed his craft with the likes of Bob Walsh, Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, and James Cotton. But he has contributed musically in plenty of non-blues projects too.
He was involved with the Cirque du Soleil for three productions and was featured in several cinematic releases (Gaz Bar Blues, The Timekeeper, Les Boys). Coming full circle, Bélanger has just released Blues Turn, a heavily blues-influenced recording, revealing urban, gospel, country, and rock accents.
Bélanger started in Montreal, then travelled to Toronto and Chicago to put together his fourth album. Though it was recorded in three cities, there is a thread that runs through and pulls the twelve tracks together. There are three original compositions; one with Strongman in Toronto, and the other two with his Montreal crew. The strength of the nine covers that round out the offering is that Bélanger didn’t fall into the trap of choosing overly well-known songs. Let’s face it, who needs to hear another version of Sweet Home Chicago? Instead he chose lesser known gems that meant something to him. How do we know what he thinks of each song or why he chose it? Because he has included an eight page booklet in the CD with notes. A very nice touch!
He had the opportunity to work with top musicians in each of the three cities where he recorded and he wasted no time when he was out of town. He recorded three tracks in each location while spending only two days in each place. In Toronto, Bélanger teamed up with Juno Award winner Steve Strongman with whom he performed often this past summer, and most recently for a handful of dates on Montreal’s South Shore. Queen City Storm that he penned with Strongman is solid, with a catchy hook and some fun call and response interplay between the two instruments. The arrangement that he and Strongman reserved for the traditional classic Corrina, Corrina will have your toes-a-tappin’ without fail.
Back in Montreal, he added another six tracks with his usual partners in crime: André Lachance on guitar, bassist Marc-André Drouin, complemented by Michel Roy on drums. Christian Martin, borrowed from Bob Walsh’s band, provided an assist on guitar for Highway Song. Lachance co-wrote a song and sings on three tracks. Letter to a Friend is, ironically, an instrumental that Bélanger wrote with his bandmates. It’s one of my favourites so far.
He was backed for the Chicago sessions by Grammy Award winner Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith on drums. Smith is the son of Muddy Waters drummer, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith. Felton Crews helped out on bass. Crews played on a number of Miles Davis’ recordings and toured with him. He was also part of Charlie Musselwhite’s touring and recording band. He appeared on several of Studebaker John’s albums, who rounded out the musical duties on guitar for Bélanger’s American road trip. Under-rated bluesman Jimmy Johnson is a special guest on vocals and guitar for a rendition of Little Walter’s Last Night. Love the guitar work and what a smooth voice. One of the top songs on the album.
On Tuesday, October 28th, Bélanger hosted friends, family, fans, press and industry types to celebrate the release of Blues Turn at O Patro Vys in Montreal. A visibly nervous Bélanger confided minutes before going on stage that he was anxious to get the live feedback on how well his six month long project would be received. He needn’t have worried!
The jitters quickly dissipated once he started doing what he does best…giving the harmonica a total workout. He wasted no time proving that he is one of the best on this instrument. Backed by the usual suspects (Lachance, Drouin, and Roy), Bélanger was flanked by Rob MacDonald on guitar as they launched into Queen City Storm, the first of five songs he would perform from his new CD. They followed through with Take A Walk Around The Corner, Trouble, The Dark End Of The Street, and lastly Highway Song.
Bélanger has passion for his instrument. He is not one to sit on a stool for the entire show and play a couple of notes. When he plays, he gets into it. He bounces from stage left to stage right. He contorts in half almost as if he was suffering from an appendix attack, blowing and drawing for the perfect note.
Guy Bélanger is a staple on the Québec music scene. He has been recognized with 14 Lys Blues awards for his work within the province. He has been nominated three times for the Canadian Maple Blues Awards hosted by the Toronto Blues Society. He hasn’t clinched a win yet but all that could change in less than three months. On October 30th, he was again nominated (for a fourth time now) in the Harmonica Player of the Year category. I predict that Bélanger will notch a first win outside of Québec. Look for Blues Turn to be recognized further outside of the province. Just a hunch!
Blues Turn is a solid acquisition to your CD collection. Buy a copy and help support a local artist and live music!
Video courtesy of Le Net Blues
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