Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Decoys - Shot From the Saddle

Muscle Shoals, Alabama

David Hood, bass guitar
Scott Boyer, vocals & guitar
Kelvin Holly, lead guitar
N.C. Thurman, keyboards & vocals
Mike Dillion, drums

1 Shot From The Saddle

2 Bits & Pieces

3 Desire

4 Down in Texas

5 Get Down

6 Her Mind is Gone

7 Good Days, Bad Days

8 Nadine

9 Neighbor, Neighbor

10 Shot From the Saddle

11 Twenty-four-7-365

12 What's Up With That

T he Decoys are a five-man powerhouse rhythm and blues band, featuring five of the most seasoned musicians, anywhere. David Hood, bass guitarist, was a member of the world famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and has played on a list of albums that reads like a who's who of the music industry, such as Aretha Franklin, Bob Segar, Rod Stewart and many more. Guitarist, Scott Boyer, is renowned for his work in "Cowboy" and the Eric Clapton version of his song, "Please Be With Me" on the "461 Ocean Boulevard" album. Kelvin Holly has long been recognized as one of the South's premier guitarists. He has played and recorded with artists such as Little Richard, The Amazing Rhythm Aces, and Bobby Blue Bland. N. C. Thurman plays keyboard, harmonica, guitar, melodica and vocals. He has recorded with greats such as Percy Sledge, Gregg Allman, Hank Williams, Jr. and many more. Mike Dillon completes the band with timing and showmanship on the drums. He has played with Grinders Switch and joined Dickey Betts for two years. He was an original member of the band, Clutch, and was a member of the Country-Pop group, the Shooters.

The Decoys was formed 14 years ago by veteran record producer, Johnny Sandlin (The Allman Brothers, Delbert McClinton, Widespread Panic…). The band has grown to gain wide respect and recognition. They have toured the South playing nightclubs and festivals. They have performed at City Stages in Birmingham, Big Spring Jam in Huntsville, and the Chunky Blues Festival in Mississippi. The band was featured at the grand opening of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and shortly afterward toured Europe and the Mediterranean. They have appeared in concert with the likes of B.B. King, Delbert McClinton, Bo Diddley, and the Allman Brothers.

Each member of the band records writes and plays independently in the studio and on the road, but all remain loyal to the DECOYS out of desire to play quality music with people they respect and admire.

By Tony Rounce

The sleevenote to the original US release of SHOT FROM THE SADDLE describes the Decoys as "a five man rhythm and blues powerhouse". That's only half the story, though. For what the Decoys really is, is a mini-history of Southern rock'n'soul, all wrapped up in a most satisfying 45 minutes of music. Originally assembled as a loose-fit 'jam band' a decade and a half ago by famed record producer Johnny "Duck" Sandlin, the group's personnel has lately gelled into a regular four piece (with a succession of guest drummers) that includes legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood. (The MSRS drumstool occupant is one of many who occasionally occupy that self-same position within the Decoys' floating membership, by the way).

Hood's been around enough to know what makes separates the good from the bad - as has lead singer Scott Boyer, whose own career stretches back to the mid 70s when he fronted Southern rockers Cowboy. Together with guitarist Kelvin Holly and keyboard man NC Thurman they make up the core of the Decoys, and are aided and augmented here by just the few other seminal Southern sidemen such as Spooner Oldham and ex-Domino Bobby Whitlock on B3s, percussionist Mickey Buckins and a team of background vocalists that includes 'Alabama Leaning Man' Donnie Fritts and Cindy Walker. Oh yes, and the Muscle Shoals Horns are conspicuous by their prominence here, too. Thus if you're guessing that SHOT FROM THE SADDLE is a beguiling blend of blues, country-influenced southern rock and straight-ahead Muscle Shoals Soul you'll be guessing right. The singing is soulful, the solos are brief and tasteful and the songs are generally pretty splendid (would you expect anything less from a set that revives Oscar Toney Jr's Down In Texas or Jimmy Hughes' Neighbor, Neighbor as well as Professor Longhair's Her Mind Is Gone, and blends them seamlessly with great Decoys originals like 24-7-365?). At a time when far too many veteran soul singers feel it's acceptable to record only with pre-programmed drum machines and crappy synth string sections, it's all the more refreshing to hear a 21st century southern soul record that features neither, as this doesn't. Enjoyed recent albums by the likes of Dan Penn and Russell Smith? You'll enjoy this, too, as it ploughs a not-dissimilar furrow to both Mr. Pennington's early 90s classic Do Right Man and Russell's recent Ace release The End Is Not In Sight (CDCHD 859 - like SFTS, originally released on Muscle Shoals Records).

Produced by Mark and Rodney Hall with occasional input from the aforementioned Mr Sandlin, it's great to see and hear that Rick Hall's boys are continuing to maintain the standards of excellence set by their father over 40 years ago when he founded Florence, Alabama Music Enterprises (that's FAME to me and you!) and recorded Arthur Alexander's You Better Move On. If you have even a passing interest in the Sound of the American South, you need to check this one out.

By Mitch Lopate

As I recall, a 'decoy' is meant to be something to draw attention away from a main interest, or to act as a distraction. This terrific little package of spliced-and-diced R&B cuts has the opposite effect: grab your hat and keep focused, because these guys have a serious "Men at Work" sign in the road. It's like a club sandwich, with layers of good fixin's and straight-to-the-point delivery when you want the real thing.

The Decoys show that the sum of the whole is indeed supported by the parts (or players). Here's a four-corner framework of painful, soulful vocals (Scott Boyer of Cowboy, part of the Allman Brothers Band extended family), short-but-sweet guitar licks (Kelvin Holly of Little Richard's band); David Hood's slunky, funky bass, as thick as tar as he stays right on top of every bass drum kick; a turnstile of tormented keyboard (NC Thurman), and a muscular rhythm section, supplemented by a cast of local heroes and rogues. Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts, Bobby Whitlock, The Muscle Shoals Horns, Brian Wheeler, James Hooker-there's enough guys here to field a damn good softball game, too, as long as the barbecue is kept up (and no duck on the menu, mind you). The Decoys work from afar and close, so when there's a gig, the paycheck beckons. However, friends also count, and when there's room to play and the time clock is off, let's cook!

And do they! The title song immediately shows Scott's growl is a dangerous thing, especially when he's caught on that another man has been prowling around his den. Well, if "Nadine" from New Orleans was the source of his loss, it sounds like she could melt steel with her charms, and it's no wonder why his imagination is on overdrive. This has a very strong vibe like Mr. Lucky's "Memphis Stripper," so the ceiling sprinkler system may ignite any minute. Ya gotta just love those clean lines that Kelvin slices-he's got such a simple but effective approach. Service notice on Steve Cropper that there's a helluva reason to hook up with Kelvin for a duet. Hats off to Scott for his delivery on Eddie Hinton's "Down in Texas," because the sweat is fresh on Boyer's work clothes with honest toil. His portrayal of Eddie's zest makes you want to hug yourself with his memory, and you make sure you notice the fast-setting cement of the horn section.

Walt Aldridge is a busy author with four tunes featured, and his "Bits and Pieces" gets a man's sorrowful view on an old flame (my Georgia Songbird friend E.G. Kight does a separate version of this for the ladies on Come Into the Blues); but rejoice, because Scott's singing from the rooftop about his new main squeeze on "24-7-365," and those measurements are the ones he loves best. But there's got to be some kind of action that's getting a lot of attention, because "Neighbor, Neighbor" has been snooping too close for comfort. Credit Scott again with taking the gentleness of a song (here it's Gregg Allman's "Melissa"), adding subtle changes (a fingerpicking intro versus strumming), and giving it a new set of wings. Kelvin, too, rides the ocean currents on guitar.

When these guys want to have fun, "Get Down" is more than an order-it's a call for comradeship and musical joy, and that's what these guys do best. Getting back to those sad times just won't be avoided, though, and "Good Days, Bad Days" is testimony why depression is a serious condition. Get Scott to a love doctor, because he's gotta get cured, y'all. Kelvin's sinewy guitar offers some remedy on "What's Up with That," 'cause it's getting time to trade in on that woman again. For sure, it's because "Her Mind is Gone," and don't be the last man out the door. But do these guys learn their lesson? They don't call it the blues for nothing, especially when "Desire" is knocking-or swaying, I should say…and Lord, is she calling my name?

Maybe the Decoys were right: the roadsign might have said 'Dangerous Curves ahead,' and I have to pull over and have another look-or listen. Just remember that a good pickup in a dark smoky place also refers to more than a truck or a guitar accessory. Sounds like there's some bad-is-good company to find on this disc-and I've got mine in mind. You should get some too, before the Decoys beat you to her.


Mitch Lopate said...

Mighty nice--but Tony Rounce didn't write all that. Starting from "As I recall..." it's mine--and in a book I wrote. But it looks good up there!


Skynfan said...

Sorry about that. The site I got that from didn't have a credit on it. I'll fix that so it is on there now. Do you know any of the guys in Decoy? I've had the honor of Hanging out with Scott Boyer and hid son at one of the Jams for Duane a couple years back.

I think Scott is a very under appreciated Guitar player and song writer. I enjoy getting folks to bend there ears around Scotts body of work.

Thanks for stopping by and you wrote a damn good review of this Album.

Mitch Lopate said...

Sho' ah knows em! Fact is, I know where they're gonna be this Saturday, in fact: down here in Alabama at the 2nd Street Music Hall, Gadsden. Y'all wanna meet us?
Look me up at
and let's talk.

Skynfan said...

If You were at the Jam for Duane a couple years back, Me and my buddies came down to Gasden from Indiana. We were the "Platinum Elvis" boys. Bill Stewart Scott Boyer and Scott III hung out in our hotel room that night. I wish I could afford to come down that way. Scott Boyer, Tommy Talton, Johnny Sandlin are my heroes. Tell them I said Hello.

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