Piety Street is the gospel according to guitar legend John Scofield. Originally starting out as a blues project, Piety Street evolved into gospel and R&B music. Scofield calls gospel music the fraternal twin to R&B music, and so Piety Street is a collection of Sco’s favourite gospel and R&B pieces, recorded in New Orleans at the source and origin of the music. The release is very similar to Scofield’s Ray Charles tribute. Relatively simple R&B rhythms, not to mention primitive, yet effective guitar playing, dominate the recording. All the arrangements are by Scofield and there are only two Scofield originals, a great shame because Scofield is an excellent composer. Jon Cleary and John Boutte share the vocal duties.
The track "Motherless Child" mutates into an interesting reggae outro with Scofield shooting out some great lines of course, a high point on the album. Another positive is Scofield’ s very funky comping on Thomas A. Dorsey’s "Never Turn Back." All the tracks bleed into one another beautifully, wasting no time and maintaining a flow throughout. There are plenty of good, old-fashioned blues moments, which lends itself to a very jovial, buoyant and uplifting spirit. This naturally tends to be simplistic, which glaringly shows a general lack of sophistication that is usually implied with a Scofield production. Scofield makes the music seem like a cakewalk, but all the greats have this tendency.
Being gospel music, there are deep and serious thematic issues. There is an obscene quantity of religious and Jesus references, far too many! The title and cover art seem to be quite honest and upfront about this though. Horns are a big part of the R&B sound, their absence here puts great focus on the guitar and organ combo. An odd squawk or horn like shreek would have added more color, but Scofield’s horn-like and horn-emulating tone substitute nicely. Also, horns would have would have further reiterated the authenticity of the music, horns are a significant part of this genre.Stylisitically, Scofield hasn’t ever really remained static, but even for him this release is a bit of a left turn. It’ s very interesting to note that the release is polluted with religious references, yet in the liner notes Scofield confesses, "I don’ t embrace any formal religion,...". Although a decent effort, Piety Street falls short of Scofield’s lofty standards. There is some fire missing to Scofield’s usual playing. Let’s look forward to Scofield’s next release.