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Published: 2008/10/27
by Brian Robbins

Lifeboat – Jimmy Herring

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Jimmy Herring has a lot of heart.

You already knew that he was a talented guitar player. If you’ve been following his career, you also know that he has a lot of class when it comes to jumping into some pretty big shoes in the most tasteful of manners (guitar-god fill-in stints for the Allman Brothers and The Dead, along with his current main gig, Widespread Panic).

But set that all aside for the moment; Jimmy Herring the person has a lot of heart and so does his playing. Herring's new solo album Lifeboat is testament to that fact. Lifeboat has plenty of guitar for those hungry for Herring, but if you were expecting an album of totally free-blowing out-there Aquarium-Rescue-Unit-style mind-warping shred, forget about it. Sure, there are some wild rides up the fretboard, but they’re done in the context of the songs and many of the songs come from places deep inside Jimmy Herring.

Herring’s core band for the project includes the Burbridge brothers (Oteil on bass; Kofi on piano and flute) and Jeff Sipe on drums, along with sit-ins by sax master Greg Osby, Matt Slocum on keys, Bobby Lee Rodgers on Leslie and rhythm guitar, Ike Stubblefield on Hammond B3, and longtime buddy Derek Trucks on guitar.

Two cuts in particular, “Lifeboat Serenade” and “Grey Day,” make you feel like you’ve walked in on a very personal moment and in this case, you have: Jimmy dealing with the loss of his father. But he’s welcomed us in and it’s okay that we’re there. On “Lifeboat Serenade,” Herring shares the moment with Derek Trucks in a unique manner: Trucks’ Gibson SG is treated as the vocalist, his trademark slide tone “singing” the lead with great emotion. Jimmy lays down a beautiful solo between verses and closes “Serenade” with a soul-emptying run powerful stuff. “Grey Day,” while a separate song placed a few tracks later on the album, feels like the eulogy that concludes “Lifeboat Serenade.”

There are light-hearted moments on Lifeboat, as well: “Scapegoat Blues” opens the album with a big Herring grin, while “One Strut” is a funkfest with the band tossing the riffs around to each other. Some tunes have been waiting in Herring’s head for years for a chance to be heard in this setting “Only When It’s Light” and “Splash” are both Kofi Burbridge-penned songs that Jimmy first played in 1986 (and were written by Kofi when he was a sophomore in high school!). And yes, the “Jungle Book Overture” is from the animated movie of the same name a “someday ” project for Herring since he was a kid. Jazz heads will get a kick out of the band’s arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Lost” with Kofi’s flute, Osby’s sax, and Herring’s guitar soaring, gliding, and weaving around each other.

Lifeboat is Jimmy Herring’s album, and in that sense, he’s proven himself to be a great bandleader. But, more importantly, he’s opened himself up to us personally with this album, and if you didn’t know it already he’s a good soul.

With a lot of heart.

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