Album Review: Arthur Adams – Kick Up Some Dust

Legendary author F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “there are no second acts in American lives.” But Fitzgerald passed away in 1940, some three years before Arthur Adams was born in Tennessee. Adams was a touring musician while still a student; taught by his mother and inspired by heroes like Elmore James, he learned to play guitar. By his early twenties he has backed James, Chuck Berry, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Lowell Fulson.

By the early 1960s, Adams had released singles under his own name. Moving out west to Los Angeles, he flourished as versatile session musician, working extensively with Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and others. Bridging blues and soul on his own recordings, Adams released a string of albums throughout the 1970s. He later toured extensively as Nina Simone’s bassist.

But Adams went quiet after that, keeping a low profile and not releasing and new music until the tail-end of the century. But in recent years he’s returned with occasional albums of new material. His latest – and first in more than a decade – is Kick Up Some Dust. And Adams’ latest makes plain that the well of inspiration upon which he drew so often in years past is still very much in service.

Adams sings lead and plays all of the guitar on “Kick Up Some Dust.” Backed by a small core of musicians plus select guest players, Adams works his way through eleven original songs. His vocal are strong and clear, with phrasing and enunciation displaying more than a hint of the influence of B.B. King. And his sinewy guitar work is melodic in the extreme.

“It Makes Me Mad” opens the album on a strong note. The tune’s horn chart fit seamlessly into the arrangement. “Starving for Your Love” employs the B.B. King voice-and-guitar call-and-response approach, but Adams make the style his own. The slinky beat, beefy horns and well-placed ‘70-soul styled backing vocals all bring the song together.

Hense Powell’s subtle string-synthesizer keyboard work gives “Hold On to Me” a romantic feel, doubling down on the song’s yearning, classic slow jam character. Adams’ guitar work is taut and economical, and his overdubbed gospel-flavored vocals are the icing on the cake.

“Fly with Me to Paradise” might be built around a shopworn lyrical idea, but musically, it’s another matter, subtly drawing upon a reggae feel that serves to showcase Adams’ songwriting and arrangement versatility. The congas that enliven the album’s title track may remind listeners of Isaac Hayes’ early ‘70s work, but the molten lead guitar carries this instrumental number; at just over three minutes, it’s over far too soon.

“I Love You More” is solidly romantic soul. “University of Hard Knocks” is loping if familiar blues, but the Dixie Hummingbirds-style backing vocals (from Kym Foley, Ava Dupree and Jessica Taylor) elevate the song. Adams leans toward funk for “Done Got Over You,” and the results are pleasing. “Cool As a Cucumber” sounds a bit like Steely Dan; “Thieves of Love” slows things waaaay down and features one of Adams’ strongest vocal turns on the set.

After delivering a collection with no missteps, the record wraps up on a high note with “A Bag of Soul,” and instrumental with tasty layered guitars. Everything about Kick Up Some Dust suggests that Adams has plenty more tricks left in his bag.