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Two threads run through the nearly four-decade career of Chicago-based guitarist Bobby Broom. One is his love for the Hammond B3. (As a teen, he turned to jazz after hearing the album Black Talk by organ legend Charles Earland — in whose groups Broom would later perform — and he spent most of this century in the cooperatively led Deep Blue Organ Trio.) Then there is Broom’s abiding affection for the pop tunes of his youth. Born in 1961, he has peppered his own guitar-bass-drums albums with such tunes; one of his best, 2001’s Stand!, consisted entirely of this repertoire, with songs by The Beatles, Sly Stone, Paul Simon and even the Turtles (“Happy Together”). On the recently released Soul Fingers (EMI Entertainment), he has woven those threads into an organ-trio disc steeped in the pop catalog.
Soul Fingers is Broom’s 12th album as a leader, but the first to feature The Organi-sation, which he formed in 2014 — with organist Ben Paterson and drummer Makaya McCraven — as an opening act for a Steely Dan tour. Shortly thereafter, while “just messing around” in his home studio, Broom shaped up arrangements on a couple of mid-’60s classics that appear on Soul Fingers: the Bobbie Gentry hit “Ode to Billie Joe” and The Temptations’ “Get Ready.” Then the wheels started turning.
Broom recalls: “I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ And I answered myself, ‘Maybe you’re working on a new record for the new group. And it sounds like you’re hearing more than a typical organ record’ — at which point I thought I’d need a producer. I thought of Steve Jordan, especially because of the soul-music slant I was hearing for these tunes.” Broom figured that Jordan, a drummer and Grammy-winning producer, wouldn’t have the time, but he signed on immediately. By then drummer Kobie Watkins had replaced McCraven, and the trio hit the studio in late summer 2015. Over the course of the next year, they added strings on some tracks and horns arranged by Saturday Night Live saxophonist Ron Blake, then waited to find the right label for release.
The collaboration between Broom and Jordan shines on such unexpected vehicles as Seals & Croft’s “Summer Breeze” and the Procol Harum anthem “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” as well as on more expectable fare from The Beatles (“Come Together”) and Steely Dan (“Do It Again”). But as Broom explains, “All this music was already in my mind and in my heart from way back when. I learned about music in large part through these tunes. I knew it would be a soulful excursion — not that you would necessarily think of some of these songs as soulful. But I could hear them that way. So it wasn’t much of a stretch.” —Neil Tesser
Feature photo by Magnus Contzen.