Artist: Dudley Taft
Album: Guitar Kingdom
Band Website: www.dudleytaft.com
Dudley’s music career began in high school when he founded the band Space Antelope with friend Trey Anastasio (of Phish). In the 1990’s he joined Seattle band Sweet Water, touring the states with Monster Magnet, Candlebox and Alice in Chains. After recording two albums for Atlantic, he left the band to join Second Coming. More touring followed with an album on Capitol Records and a taste of success thanks to the single “Vintage Eyes” which made it to #10 on the Rock Radio charts.
Taft has recorded and released a total of eight studio albums and one live CD, recorded on the European tours of 2014 and 2015. After Left for Dead in 2010 came Deep Deep Blue in 2012, Screaming In The Wind in 2014, Skin and Bones in 2015, Live In Europe in 2016, Summer Rain 2017, Simple Life in 2019, Cosmic Radio in 2020 and Guitar Kingdom in 2023. Reese Wynans of Stevie Ray Vaughan fame has played on three of these studio albums. Dudley has had four #1 songs on the Hit Tracks Top 100 charts, a #2 Blues Rock single (Give Me A Song) and Simple Life made it to #9 on the US Blues Rock Album charts.
This latest release Guitar Kingdom is an 11 song tour de force of blues based rock music that fans of the genre and particularly the guitar will love. His playing is steeped in the rock side of the blues, but still possessing the authenticity that keeps one foot planted solid in the blues. His tone is warm and gritty in a Gary Moore sort of way. The phrasing is fluid and interesting at every turn. His rock influences from the Seattle scene are obvious, making for a unique take that is quite a bit darker than any band I have heard prior that is exploring the rock side of the blues.
Still Burning is an interesting listen. At its core it is quite bluesy but has a really cool Beatles-like vocal melody. The vocals feel very naturally gritty, unforced and comfortable in the mud. The guitar work is reminiscent of Ritchie Blackmore and Joe Bonamassa with a hint of Tom Keifer in it. Dudley clearly has great chops and a deep understanding of music on a more complex level than the blues typically permits, but still phrases his lines with patience and guts.
Black and Blues is a perfect example of the Seattle darker rock influence in the context of a bluesy shuffle. It's like if Kenny Wayne Shepherd had a jam session with Alice In Chains at a backyard party hosted by Rory Gallagher. The track has a cool walking guitar line throughout that keeps it rooted in the blues, but it is the vocal that takes it into the droney low end growl that was such a big part of the Seattle sound of the 90's. A standout is Darkest Night. Opening with familiar acoustic blues moves, but quickly moving away from what was expected as soon as the vocal drops in. It is impressive how Dudley is able to marry musical genres so seamlessly into one unique gumbo. The acoustic guitar solo is something that perhaps Randy Rhoads would've played in this cut. Floating gracefully from standard issue pentatonic ideas into harmonic minor passes that definitely expose the fingerprints of a schooled guitarist. But not so schooled that he has lost the edge. Dudley is obviously a player that likes quite a bit of diverse guitar based music. His playing has depth without flaunting it. The chops are there, but never overbearing. The complexity of his compositions never feels like a lecture, because they never lose the sweat and swag of gritty rock and roll. The record as a whole is definitely a rock effort that flirts pretty hard with the blues. The production is polished and the songs have interesting turns that keep the listener engaged. His vocals are very easy to listen to and the guitar playing is world class. I imagine in the live context where the band has more room to stretch, Dudley takes the audience on a wild ride through the history of guitar playing. He seems to have it all in there. Anyone that can get from acoustic blues to Seattle to harmonic minor licks has done some studying in both a formal environment as well as a dirty bar with an amp on a pool table. Guys like this are the reason why guitar is interesting to so many of us. It is how one combines the many ingredients to make a unique musical statement that separates the average from the exceptional... and Dudley Taft has made the jump to the exceptional.