CD Reviews: Back From The Brink
Straight up here, no lie – sometimes I get overloaded with all the great music that our brothers and sisters are putting out these days. It is not only amazing but it also reaffirming as to the level of talent and abilities that these cats & kittens possess. Thank you all.
But ‘it’ happens – sometimes things just get by me – some releases take the short path after getting entered into the system for whatever reason, or something else jumps it’s place in line, or it sometimes doesn’t connect with me at that time – whatever – things fall thru the cracks.
I hate that, I feel that I am doing a disservice to these artists and often I am left without much recourse but to let it slide and hope to catch them on the next go round.
But here are a few that have resurfaced – magically they found their way into my mobile listening studio whereupon they act as the soundtrack to my totally awesome life. So let’s look at these releases that have come back from the brink, and I, for one, am thankful for it.
The Sugar Prophets: self-titled
Just One Teaspoon Records
OK, I caught these cats live in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge and I was reminded of how much I dug their solid sound. Led by Josh Spence who possesses a super voice and plays an incendiary harp ‘TSP’ runs the gamut of styles with a perfect understanding of how and when to deliver the goods.
‘Livin’ In Sin’ is a slow blues burner featuring Josh going down in the vocal alley to pullout some nuggets that are, at once satisfying and yet scary. Satisfying because of the the phrasing and deep nature of his voice, and scary because it sounds so damn real that I wonder if there is anything left in this boys’ heart after the end of this affair. Some damn sweet guitar work by Joe Asselin as he winds his way thru all six strings and recalls some of the early masters work on the electric. Spence’s harp playing shines on this track as he also gets the ‘feel’ for close knit, smoke filled rooms and that all encompassing darkness that the Blues can bring.
To pick the pace up a bit ‘Bad Ass’ is an uptempo homage to a former way of life (that just won’t go away HAH). Telling the eternal tale of ‘flight or fight’ and the choice of the later as a way of life is actually a witty story of a life that is all too familiar to me and captures a certain attitude that if one had they always will.
‘Brighter Day’ offers us hope for the instauration of joy and love that we once held deep in our hearts. Gritty vocal harmonies and tasty work from the band makes us see the light coming out of the darkness.
This release plays like a set list from back in the day, BANG one song to another, get it done and move on, leaving no spot for the reconstructive breath with just enough time to hear the last notes from the previous song as the new one begins. I like this – after seeing them live I found their set to be just like the recording – or is it the other way around. Live these cats killed it, full throttle balls to the wall Blues. The combination of Joe Asselin & A.J. Williams on guitars combined with a solid back line of Al Chapman on bass and Aaron D. Wilson on drums give us a full sound-scape that can handle and produce ay type of Blues ya want – just order up some from the Sugar Prophets and take a full dose of enjoyment.
Alex Wilson is one of those cats who catches you totally by surprise. His easy going, humble and respectful demeanor belies the burn that resides deep within him and comes pouring out full force in his music.
The opening riffs of the first track “I Like To Play” is Cajun/Country inspired guitar riff that drops straight down into the mean streets of the Blues. From there it peels out and leaves a path of burned rubber and fumes as the neighbors scram for him to turn it down and drive slow! Hey hey hey ya know he likes to play. That he does, and his guitar work proves it whether it’s jazzed up West Coast Swing to hot Texas grinders, Mr. Wilson has all the tools to do that while adding his own original notes and take on the music he chooses.
His choice for deep dish Chicago Blues is “Rockinitis”. A Billy Boy Arnold tale of a very common affliction that many of us have contracted whilst listening to the Blues. That beat gets a hold of ya and won’t let go – next thing ya know it’s 4am in the morning and you ain’t where you should be. Nice harp work and vocals by Madison Slim creates a nice picture of what would be going on at that hour of the morning in a jook joint or club.
Mr. Wilson’s’ influences are broad based, and the ease and verve with which he applies them to his vision if quite impressive. Scorching lead riffs on ‘Take It Easy Baby’ show off his knack for getting the most out of the space between the notes as well as the notes themselves.
From what seems to be from a time before his time Alex takes us on the hippest of all trips on “When We Get Close”. In this rumba styled paean to the music of the sixties – think Strawberry Alarm Clock meets Badfinger – we get a totally ‘gets it’ moment. Harmonies sung at just the right strain point, with snappy guitar raking as backdrop till the end when it turns into a psychedelic group grope of sound that brought a big ol’ smile to my face.
The disc ends with ‘You Used To Know Me’, a sweetly constructed lift off point for his explorations in the world of Hendrix styled voicings building up to a fiery wah-wah, phase call and response before crash landing in the land of mermaids and mermens.
Give this a listen folks, check out his web page and then buy his disc, you will not be disappointed.
Travis might be better known as the keyboard player with the Roomful of Blues band. But this cat is equally adept at guitar, vocals and songwriting as he displays here on this twelve track release of original music.
“Look Out” jumps off the vinyl with a swinging up-tempo proclamation to look out and re-asses the bad things and jump these grooves to a better day. A sound bit of advice that is backed up with musical enticements for all of us to take notice of. Guesting is Roomfuls’ Chris Vachon on guitar which is a treat.
The title track “Quick Fix” offers us a solid guitar driven reflection of life’s current situation complimented by spanking horns – arranged by fellow Roomful partner in crime Doug Woolverton. Travis shows his guitar prowess very nicely here and through the release.
What this is not is a Roomful showcase or gathering, though he is joined by fellow bandmates. Travis shines in his own light and covers a wide variety of styles from jump blues, to slow burners all done in a very neat form. Travis possesses a fine voice that he uses with a keen sense of space and timing. His guitar work is really pretty clean and good, not overly done with some consideration to phrasing and spacing of notes, makes ya want to hear him play some more.
The Blues shuffle is featured on “Baby Baby Baby” with horns working the counterpoint to Travis’ vocals and guitar. This cut has a certain element of funk to it that makes it hard not to tap your feet (or at least chair dance while listening). “Triscuit Jam” is a jazzy groove set up by some killer B3 work, that had me recalling the hey-day of Chick Corea and Return to Forever styled intelligent funk.
Travis closes it all out with a acoustic offering “What Can I Say” which serves as a nice end to a driving release.
Travis is a fine young artist and deserves to be heard and listened to in his own right. ‘Quick Fix’ is an entirely enjoyable release and shows promise of more good music to come from Travis. Also be sure to check him out with recent New England Music Award Winners for Blues Act of the Year – Roomful of Blues http://www.roomful.com/ .
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos: courtesy of artists.