Paul Filipowicz ‘Pier 43’ Album Review

Chicago Blues Hall of Fame member Paul Filipowicz, a wily musical veteran, makes a rewarding return to recording with his new release, Pier 43.

Chicago Blues Hall of Fame member Paul Filipowicz, a wily musical veteran, makes a rewarding return to recording with his new release, Pier 43. This fine gentleman possesses skills that have been finely honed through his years of stage and studio experience. Paul Filipowicz was born in Chicago at the perfect time to fall in love with the blues, and to sustain this love for a lifetime. Filipowicz became drawn to learning guitar at about the age of seven, and was self-educated on the instrument utilizing a finger picking style of play in lieu of a plectrum (guitar pick).  

On the new album, his eleventh, Filipowicz operates with a barebones attack, accentuated by a spare jagged feel throughout. The release is on Big Jake Records, who boasts a mission statement of “Keeping Hot Blues Alive.” On ‘Pier 43,’ Paul fiercely handles all of the lead vocals and the guitar work and the boss rhythm consists of Brian Howard on drums and Steve Lewis on bass guitar. Al Dorn ably furnishes vital blues harp contribution on three occasions. The majority of the music is presented with an appealing looseness that is hard to verbally describe.  

The opening cut, “Old Time Superstition,” has Paul displaying his slide guitar skills in a song as loose as your favorite pair of bluejeans. It has a Nawlins vibe, with a mess of hoodoo present in the lyrics. A standard blues track, “Angel Face,” contains a nice Paul vocal and a call and response treatment of the refrain “she’s my angel face.” The guitar break at mid-song swings with an un-rushed Chicago shuffle rhythm before the confident vocal returns.

The title track, “Pier 43,” is a slow instrumental blues that slowly snakes menacingly along with the percussion mixed front and center, steady like a metronome. While the anticipation builds…. and builds…. for the unleashing of Paul’s guitar. When the guitar does appear, it wails with raw and primal cries, like a hungry baby. It’s answered with a second guitar in a conversational confrontation of give and take. At times a bit discordant, it creates an atmosphere of thick suspense. This song is supposedly inspired by his days laboring on a longshore dock. To me, it has the tense ambience of dark alleys on moonless nights. 

“I still write songs by taking an everyday thought, or feeling I am experiencing, and try to sing it. If it is a true inspiration, I can’t stop singing it. Then, I write it down so I will remember most of it. Sometimes, I will write down other abstract ideas to save for later experimentation. At times, I can go days, or even weeks, without any inspiration. Then sometimes, I can’t write the stuff down fast enough. It’s a very emotional experience for me.” ~ Paul Filipowicz

Paul is growling and howling on “When I Get To Town,” and finds his vocal accompanied by his menacing Stratocaster guitar as he boldly proclaims his purpose to “lay his money down, and throw it around, when he gets to town.” The song immediately grabs you by the seat of your pants, and each repeated listen endears it more and more. In my opinion, this song is the highlight of the set.

The looseness again becomes evident on the instrumental ‘Spit Shine.’ Brian Howard beats his jungle drums fiercely while Paul’s skuzzy guitar slashes away until after about a third of the song the slack is tightened considerably. I envision a sweaty late night blues club with the smoke burning my eyes; but oh yeah, I’m digging it.  

“Hip Shake” is the illegitimate son of the Exile On Main Street/Slim Harpo song with the same title. The drum sticks on the rims recalls that classic, but dirtier though: rowdy as 2AM at the barrelhouse with the dance floor crowded and sweaty. The guitar rips like Chuck Berry Diddley Mulligan stew. The vocal is wicked and raw, and fits the song that really makes you wanna shake your hips and ‘cut a rug’ burnin’ up that dance floor.

Next, Paul and his crew slow it down and let you catch your breath with “Poor Man’s Throne.” It’s a slow blues treat with sad sack lyrics. The ambiance I sense is again the feel of walking the back alleys late at night with possible danger hiding behind every shadowy trash can, and your hand in your pocket firmly holding the straight razor in waiting. It’s another song that I can’t get enough of. Great sequencing laid out. 

A wobbling loose boogie comes with “Humdinger,” where again the call and response is employed on “she’s a real humdinger.” It’s catchy as a good catfish bait, but without the offending odor. It’s followed by another boogie song, “Cut You Loose – Texas Out,” that sounds like it was duly inspired by John Lee Hooker and that little band from Texas. Filipowicz’s vocal is confident and assured, like a man who knows what he wants, and is determined to get it. The lyrics “work” well, and the group burns like a Molotov mix of oil and gasoline that cannot be easily extinguished. It ends the 2023 portion of the recording on a high note.

The release ends with a pair of songs performed live with the late funk drumming legend Clyde Stubbelfield culled from a radio show back in November of 1979. These songs are performed with a full 6 piece band that includes saxophone from “Fat” Pete Drake. They provide a stark contrast to the previous nine songs, and the band is tight and cooks on high.

To sum it all up, the release works best when heard in its entirety. Listening to a single song or two is fine; but when heard from start to finish… it provides a much more powerful statement.  

Paul Filipowicz ‘Pier 43’ Album Review