Denise LaSalle, Pay Before You Pump

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Sharon Jones, step aside, for the queen of soul-blues.

Best known for such sassy, early-70s r&b crossovers as “Trapped by a Thing Called Love” and “Now Run and Tell That,” LaSalle currently reigns over what's left of the chitlin circuit as “queen of soul-blues.” Unlike virtually every other artist in the genre, she rejects synths and the like, working with a horn-heavy band made up entirely of “real” instruments. She has a full, flexible voice that's deepened some since her salad days, and she can squeeze every drop of emotion out of a melody (witness the stirring soul ballad “Hold On Tight”). She's also mastered that old-school blues double-entendre; the shuffling title song, rest assured, is not really about gas prices. “Mississippi Woman” is a strutting cover of Charles Wilson's regional hit, and Denise's “Delta Blues” mix reprises with a honking harp and sizzling slide that takes the song way down home. The swaggering “Working on Beale Street and Crying” is just as earthy. Denise, who wrote or co-wrote six of her ten songs, can turn some nifty lines, too: “I wanted a man/ Someone honest and true/ So I prayed to heaven/ And hell gave me you.”