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Lurrie Bell with Gibson ES-335It’s true that the American blues tradition is replete with stories of struggle and loss, but for Chicago bluesman Lurrie Bell, those clichés became heartbreakingly real this year. In a year that saw life imitating art, the guitarist in January endured the death of his partner, photographer Susan Greenberg, the mother of Bell’s toddler daughter; and in May, he said farewell to his father, Chicago harp master Carey Bell, who died at the age of 70.

“I’ve accepted the things that have happened with my family, the people that I love,” 48-year-old Bell says. “I figure it’s an act of God. It’s up to me to accept that and carry on. I just wake up every day, and I say, ‘Today is gonna be good.’ In a way, it all makes me stronger, because even with all the bad luck, I know I’m still hangin’ in there. And with this new record, I’m gonna be able to tell the people exactly how I feel.”

Let’s Talk About Love (Aria BG Records), produced by Matthew Skoller, is Bell’s response to the trials and tribulations of ’07. The album is a reminder that the blues, in the end, really isn’t about gloom and doom after all: It’s actually uplifting music that offers the power of redemption.

“Music is what has really kept Lurrie focused,” says Charlotte, North Carolina-based guitarist and friend Scott Cable, who backed Lurrie and Carey Bell on the 2007 CD/DVD Gettin’ Up Live, which proved to be the elder Bell’s final recording. “The main thing is his love and devotion to the blues. It sounds cliché sometimes when you hear someone say, ‘My life is the blues,’ or ‘I just want to play the blues,’ but when you hear a guy like Lurrie say it, he really means it. His whole life has been devoted to this music and carrying the tradition forward.”

Lurrie Bell with Gibson ES-335Let’s Talk About Love also serves notice that Bell, who deftly wields his Gibson ES-335 across a dozen cuts, remains one of the premiere blues guitarists working today’s Chicago scene. His deep, purposeful playing carries on a proud 335 tradition found in the recordings of blues masters like B.B. King, Freddie King, and Otis Rush. “Man, I love that guitar,” Bell says of his 335. “That guitar really says what I want it to say. The thing that I like about it is that I can get a deep sound for the blues. I can get the tone that I want, and it’s easy for me to get up and down the neck. Man, when I play the 335, I’ve gotta bring my A-game.”

Bell was once hailed by the likes of Rolling Stone and The New York Times as bound for stardom before his career was derailed by mental illness, drug addiction, and a two-year bout with homelessness in the early 1980s. He first gained attention in 1978, when he played in a band called Sons of Blues that appeared on Alligator Records’ Living Chicago Blues series, but he didn’t record a solo album until 1989’s Everybody Wants to Win, and he didn’t start to release albums in earnest until he hooked up with the Delmark label and put out Mercurial Son in 1995.

“I never did give up, man,” Bell says. “I always said to myself that I got a gift from God, and that I’m supposed to show the people, and myself, that I have a reason for living. Today, I can get on my guitar and just have the best time I ever had in my life—seriously, man. I can be in my own world, right where I need to be to get that certain particular feeling that I love. One thing about music is that, if you’re going through changes, it can heal you. People need the blues.”

Photo Credit for Top Photo: Toshiya Suzuki

Photo Credit for Bottom Photo: Kurt Swanson