Back in 2004, Chicago-based producer David Vandenberg brought the Leeds-based funk act The New Mastersounds to the States as an opener for Greyboy All-Stars for what would be the acclaimed British act’s first Stateside tour. As the story goes, Vandenberg took The New Mastersounds’ guitarist, bandleader and producer Eddie Roberts out to Rosa’s, a legendary blues club on Chicago’s West Side on Roberts’ first night in town to catch local bluesman Omar Coleman, a local blues legend, who had been playing Rosa’s for decades. 17 years later, Roberts wound up producing Coleman’s forthcoming album Eddie Roberts Presents Omar Coleman: Strange Times.
Slated for release this summer through Roberts’ own Color Red Music, the album’s title is an ode to The New Mastersounds 2001 debut, Keb Darge Presents: The New Mastersounds — and in many ways Coleman’s album finds Roberts, an acclaimed musician, bandleader and producer taking on the role of curator and influencer, championing and supporting artists he believes should be heard and loved.
Eddie Roberts Presents Omar Coleman: Strange Times‘ latest single, album title track is a strutting and gritty synthesis of The Payback-era James Brown funk and Chicago blues within a classic 12 bar blues structure featuring a looping bluesy guitar line reminiscent of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, an enormous horn line, bursts of shimmering strings and a funky bass line that would make Bootsy Collins‘ proud paired with Coleman’s powerhouse, soulful vocals. Lyrically, the song’s origins can be traced to a series of conversations Coleman had with Roberts during the album’s recording sessions about bizarre, infuriating and tragic state of America during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the exchange between the two kept turning back to the fact that we were all living in very strange times. Coleman took that and ran with it, immediately scribbling out incisive and fiery lyrics that accurately describe life in our very moment with the song talking about the abject poverty, desperation and uncertainty that hardworking and decent folks everywhere face. As the old saying the rich get richer while the poor get sicker.
Roberts’ recruited an accomplished backing band that features himself, Ghost Light’s Dan Africano (bass), Matador! Soul Sounds‘ Chris Spies (keys and organ), Dragondeer’s Carl Sorenson (drums), Lettuce‘s Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), Michal Menert‘s Nick Gerlach (sax), Adrienne Short (viola) and Kari Clifton (violin) to help him with a sonic approach that would combine classic blues with funkier blues. And to capture the rawness and immediacy of the material, they recorded it straight to tape on Color Red Studios’ Tascam 388. “I hear Omar’s voice as a cross between Muddy Waters and Charles Bradley,” Roberts says. “I tried to reflect those qualities in music approach and songwriting as well as the way we recorded the album and built the instrumentation of the tracks.”