Curtis Salgado's 2016 release — "The Beautiful Lowdown" on Alligator Records — shows the blues and R&B singer at the top of his game. He wrote or co-wrote every song on the album, reaching deep into his heart and soul for an inspired, powerful recording that showcases his full-force vocals and soulful lyrics.
Salgado co-produced the album along with Los Angeles musicians Marlon McClain and Tony Braunagel. The singer even contributed to the horn arrangements and background vocals. "Lowdown" is replete with studio musicians from Studio City in California and Falcon Studios in Portland.
"I've been hearing a lot of good feedback about the album," Salgado says during a telephone interview from upper northeast New York State.
As for the title, Salgado says he turned to his guitarist one night and said, "Play something lowdown, but make it beautiful." Then he thought, "Keep that."
Salgado's last album, "Soul Shot," was released in 2012 and won three 2013 Blues Music Awards, including the coveted B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. He also won Soul Blues Album of the Year. The strength of that record led Salgado far and wide, with gigs and performances at music festivals around the world.
Salgado doesn't like to speculate what awards "Lowdown" may garner.
"We'll see," he says. "I just put it out there and see what kind of reaction I get."
Don't let the titles on the album's 12 tracks lull you into thinking you're in for 45 minutes of bluesy, nostalgic bliss. There's only one song about a broken heart, and it and the rest all have positive messages.
"Lowdown" opens with the soul rocking "Hard to Feel the Same About Love."
"It's about a broken heart, but the end message is that first loves always have a place in the heart, and the man in the narrative is glad to have the chance to tell her so, but he's moved on. Yeah.
"Part of the craft of songwriting is to say as much as you can in the last words, say a lot so you can picture it as a little movie. That's the idea that I strike for — mini-movies that come with different angles, like first-person narrative, two-person narrative, looking out, outside looking in, and on a personal level."
"Low Down Dirty Shame," co-written with Vyasa Dodson (The Insomniacs), is actually a positive song about two lovers looking forward and taking on life together for the rest of the way, whatever that way is.
Dodson plays guitar on this track, and rhythm guitar on the album's "Ring Telephone Ring" and "Simple Enough."
"Everybody sees and takes in music differently," Salgado says. "For me, each one sounds different, but they're all crafted to be rhythm and blues. I take a lot of time with them."
"I Know a Good Thing" has a Delta blues rhythm, or Mississippi hill music, Salgado says. "Walk a Mile in My Blues" is more about not judging others than having the blues. "Healing Love" is a gift for the woman Salgado loves.
"I've never written a song like it for anyone I've been in a long-term relationship with," he says.
There also seems to be a joyful sound to the vocals and instrumentation, especially "Nothing in Particular (Little Bit of Everything)," and "Simple Enough" with its reggae groove is about letting love fly free.
"It's the only time I deliberately set out to write a reggae song, which to me is just Jamaican rhythm and blues," Salgado says. Kingston reggae star and dub artist Tippa Lee contributed to the arrangement and sang backup vocals.
"Simple Enough" and the duet "Is There Something I Should Know" are standouts on the record. When Alligator Records got ready to do "Lowdown," the label wanted guest artists in a couple of spots.
Salgado recalled Danielle Nicole, a singer he met about eight years ago at a blues festival on the island of St. John. Nicole and her brothers worked as Trampled Under Foot, a band based in Kansas City, Mo., before she pursued a solo career. Her self-titled, debut EP was released in early 2015 on Concord Records.
"When I first heard her, I thought she was capable of singing anything," Salgado says. "Mavis Staples was out of my price range," he laughs, "but Danielle fit the slot perfectly."
Another standout, "My Girlfriend," is funky and rhythmic.
"It's total James Brown," Salgado says.
"Ring Telephone Ring" is a joyful blues shuffle about falling in love, and look for a dose of Salgado's solid harmonica notes on "Hook Me Up."
Blues Review writes, "the deeply rooted Salgado effortlessly blends classic soul sounds and funk grooves with up-to-the-minute lyrics. His intense and uninhibited vocals bring an urgency and edge to his timeless original songs."
Salgado and his band open Thursday, Sept. 1, for a sold-out Steve Miller show at Britt Festivals in Jacksonville. "The Beautiful Lowdown" will be available at the show.