AllMusic Rating: ★★★★
Classic soul as listeners knew it in the '60s and '70s isn't dead, but it isn't nearly as plentiful as it was back then -- and you certainly have to know where to look for it. One of the places to look is the blues circuit, which has its share of artists who are quite capable of embracing urban blues one minute and soul the next. West Virginia native turned Bay Area resident Will Porter has enjoyed a small local following on the northern California blues circuit, but his debut album, Happy, actually contains more soul than blues. And much of the time, the singer recalls an era in which Otis Redding, Al Green, Tyrone Davis, Eddie Floyd, and Stax Records reigned supreme. Porter demonstrates his mastery of urban blues on "Like a Circle (Around the Sun)," and he ventures into vocal jazz territory (à la Billy Eckstine and Jimmy Rushing) on expressive performances of the standards "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself a Letter)" and "Easy Street." But more often than not, Happy is a soul album -- which is why Porter was lucky to have Wardell Quezergue on board. In New Orleans, Quezergue commands the sort of respect that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff command in Philadelphia; in other words, he's R&B royalty. And as Happy's producer/arranger, Quezergue oversees an impressive cast that includes Billy Preston, Barbara Lewis (as in "Hello Stranger"), and former Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli. Happy doesn't pretend to be groundbreaking; Porter is derivative, but derivative in the best, most positive sense of the word -- and thanks to Quezergue, he shows himself to be a heavy-duty soulster who can also handle jazz and the blues enjoyably well.