Bud Summers - 'The Way'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be delving into and taking a deep look at ‘The Way,’ a new seven song record from Bud Summers. Hailing from St. Louis, Summers describes his act in a unique way. It’s ‘Groundhog Music’ - ‘a little bluesy, a little jazzy, and not too far from the rock.’ Sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it? Let’s check it out.

He’s a remarkable solo performer, one that utilizes digital looping, a harmonizer, and a makeshift tambourine percussion stomper in his sets. ‘The Way,’ however, does have a backing band. It’s a minimalistic grouping, though, with Jason McAtee on bass and keys and Jake McAtee on drums. The three-piece outfit allows Summers to maintain the most important elements of his live act. Sacrificing that attention to detail and brevity would have been completely compromising to his persona, so I was immediately glad to see a sparse selection of studio musicians.

As his peculiar self-titled genre suggests, ‘The Way’ is a hodgepodge of influence. ‘That’s Why,’ the opening track, is a defiant thrill ride of jazz influence and rock sensibility. It’s more than a bit bluesy, too, especially in regard to those killer electric guitar riffs. Summers croons in a classic rock-esque style, melodically shifting from verse to verse with elegant tact. The sound perfectly straddles the line between contemporary and classic, a difficult feat. The atmospheric, rocking feel of the opener is an excellent indicator of the kind of record ‘The Way’ ends up becoming.

The rocking, jazzy style of ‘That’s Why’ is quickly departed on ‘My Baby’s Big And Bad’ in favor for an Americana, bluesy acoustic romp. Incoming: slide guitar, exceptional lyricism, and Tom Waits-like harmonica squealing. As a Chicago bluesman, I have a deep love and appreciation of the blues. Goodness, Summers nails it. ‘That’s Why’ invited me to the party. ‘My Baby’s Big And Bad’ made me stay.

The following tune, ‘She Sings Karaoke,’ continues Summers’ genre-defying jaunt through all of the musical genres I love. It’s a beautiful track, one that walks the line between rock and roll and singer songwriter blues. I’ve said it many times on the both the Jukebox podcast and here on the Independent Spotlight, but it bears repeating: musicians with a background and upbringing in jazz know their stuff. Summers’ musical prowess cascades in waves over you, culminating and residing in that remarkable guitar solo.

‘Ain’t Got Time For Whiskey’ enjoys a style akin to every weekend evening bar show within ten blocks of my apartment. (Again, Chicago.) It’s jiving acoustic blues with a heavy dose of much-needed harmonica spitting. At this point in the review, it’s also worth touching on the production of ‘The Way.’ It’s simplistic, embracing a level of brevity I quickly came to enjoy during the near two hours I spent with it. That said, it’s also well mixed and mastered, perfectly accentuating each piece of the instrumentation. Every sound feels deliberate and nothing feels excessive. That’s a commendable accomplishment.

‘The Way I Do’ electrifies Summers’ bluesy ramblings. It’s actually an infectiously catchy song, one that embraces a fantastic little chorus and melody. In particular, I dig the back-up vocals. The song incorporates jazz influence instrumentally, continuing to concrete my new-found love of ‘Groundhog Music.’ Toward the ending of the album, however, the highlight is most certainly apparent: ‘Bedtime Story.’ My goodness; this track is gorgeous. It’s one of the songs that’ll bring a tear to your eye, an unexpected one that you can’t quite explain. Summers should have switched ‘Bedtime Story’ with ‘Common Ground.’ The latter track is superb, but the former has a sense of finality to it that would accent the end of the collection beautifully.

‘Common Ground’ is indeed superb. It seems like a compromise between all of the styles Summers toys with throughout ‘The Way.’ In that sense, it does conclude the album nicely. (I’ll still argue for ‘Bedtime Story’ as the closer, though.) Lyrically, I found the song a tad repetitive, perhaps not reaching the heights of its predecessors, but it’s still an elegant recording well worthy of its inclusion in the collection.

‘The Way’ will be released shortly as Summers’ sixth independent effort. It is absolutely worth your time. It’s a stunning collection that defies classification. Summers jumps from genre to genre with ease and poise, so much so that I found the jumps more streamlined than I anticipated. Follow him online below and pick up a copy of ‘The Way’ when it debuts.