Soulful and funky are handy adjectives often used to describe above-average blues. And those words deserved to be employed yet again in a review of Tia Carroll’s You Gotta Have It. With a smoky, sensual and staggeringly powerful voice, Carroll is the real deal. Her delivery positively exudes well-earned confidence. And the band is so, so good that even an instrumental remix would be worth the listener’s time.
But that would rob said listener of the emotionally resonant experience of hearing Carroll as she works her way through a well-chosen collection of eleven songs. With note-perfect production by Kid Andersen and Jim Pugh, You Gotta Have It displays the best that soul/blues has to offer: solid songs (including the superb late-night feel of a Carroll cowrite, “Even When I’m Not Alone”). The Sons of the Soul Revivers lend their Dixie Hummingbirds-styled gospel vocal chorus to a few tracks, and Charlie Hunter guests on the opening cut.
The album traffics in multiple styles. “Our Last Time” is sassy, rollicking uptempo blues. “Don’t Put your Hands On Me” features a breathtaking horn chart and may remind some listeners of “Hi Heel Sneakers.” A torchy piano ballad, “Never Let Me Go” has a ‘50s vibe. “Leaving Again” is an exemplar of Bill Withers-styled subtlety. And “Mama Told Me” is hard-charging brassy blues with some delightfully skittering piano in the mix.
In a just world, “Ready to Love Again” would be a hit; written by Andersen and his wife Lisa Leuschner, it’s a real winner among a collection without any losers. And after serving up great tune after great tune, the album closes with another sol stirrer, a sublime cover of the Staple Singers’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad.”
Truth in labeling: You Gotta Have It isn’t only the title of Tia Carroll’s new record. It’s also a succinct way to sum up this reviewer’s feeling about it. Quite possibly the finest blues release of 2021.