Lifeboat represents a major first in the career of Jimmy Herring, the legendary guitarist who has worked with everyone from Phil Lesh & Friends, The Other Ones and The Aquarium Rescue Unit to The Allman Brothers Band and, most recently, Widespread Panic. Decades into his storied career and, to say the least, a long time coming, Lifeboat is Herring’s first bona fide "solo" release. His fans will be pleased to know that he has not taken any aspect of this unique recording project lightly, even mentioning in a recent interview with Philzone’s Rod Sibley that he selected a favorite photograph of his own mother for the front cover. What may surprise listeners is that the CD is not, I repeat, NOT merely a "guitar album." Lifeboat is a collection of fully-realized instrumental songs incorporating elements of both rock and jazz.
The core backing band for the sporadic Lifeboat recording sessions consisted of longtime Herring associates Jeff Sipe (drums), Oteil Burbridge (bass), Greg Osby (saxophones), Matt Slocum (clavinet, piano, organ), and Kofi Burbridge (piano, flute). In addition, a number of guest artists are credited with contributions, including Derek Trucks, who graces two tracks with his signature slide guitar-playing.
Lifeboat immediately draws listeners in with the upbeat ARU-styled "Scapegoat Blues." As the album progresses, so, too, does the range and style of the featured material. The opener is followed by the jazzy keyboard-driven "Only When It's Light" and the melodic "New Moon."
One of Lifeboat’s obvious highlights is "Lifeboat Serenade," a killer track that features some great interplay between Herring and Derek Trucks and is, arguably, the album’s centerpiece. Also of note is Herring’s phenomenal controlled guitar-soloing on "Gray Day," which is a good as anything he has ever committed to record.
The majority of the tracks on Lifeboat are Jimmy Herring originals. The album’s four featured covers include two compositions by Kofi Burbridge, as well as Herring’s take on the jazz classic "Lost," from Wayne Shorter’s 1965 release The Soothsayer, and a playful reading of George Bruns’ "Jungle Book Overture," from the soundtrack of the Walt Disney film The Jungle Book.
While folks like Souvik Dutta at the Abstract Logix label provided Herring with the initial encouragement to begin the Lifeboat project, we can hope that additional releases of a similar nature will be forthcoming. Lifeboat serves as both an excellent first "solo" record and a worthy addition to the Jimmy Herring catalog.