If this were a word association game and I had to respond to "Russia", my impulses would probably lead me to say "Khrushchev", "Cold War", "Communism", "Drago" (Rocky IV), "Vodka or "Red". The word "Blues" would never enter my mind........until now that is. Interestingly enough, had this been the era of the cold war, this CD would have been delivered to me by the FBI instead of the USPS. OK, enough of my idiosyncrasies and on to the music.
RAGTIME is a band that has made quite a name for themselves on the Russian blues scene, and now they are being discovered by the American Blues Community. They recently created quite a stir in Memphis, TN as representatives of "blues.ru" at the International Blues Challenge. The band is led by singer/songwriter ARSEN SHOMAKHOV on guitar and vocals and the rest of the band consists of ASLAN ZHANTUYEV on bass, SULTANBEK "BEK" MAMYSHEV on drums and as a guest on several tracks, GRIGORY MARTIROSYAN on tenor sax.
The band chose three very well know covers - "I AM READY", "DIRTY GIRL" and "T-BONE SHUFFLE" - to compliment the eight outstanding originals by ARSEN on "TROUBLEMAKER". I compliment their decision to do this and I compliment their choices of covers as well. Doing covers by Willie Dixon and T-Bone Walker requires a bit of guts. Do them bad and you leave a sour sound in some purists ears, automatically making it hard to like the rest of the CD. On the other hand, do them well and you make a statement. RAGTIME made a statement
The band is secure enough with their musical talent to feature four instrumentals and I enjoyed every one of them. "TICK-TOCK" is a slightly progressive, slightly funky number which features lots of great bass by ASLAN. "DON'T MISS YOUR TRAIN" is a hot, fast paced track featuring ARSEN and SULTANBEK putting on a two man show on guitar and drums respectively. To say "SHE'S DANGEROUS" is an all out jam would be putting it mildly. This one features all three of these fine young musicians absolutely on fire.
"I DON'T KNOW", in addition to the three previously mentioned covers, is one of the originals on which ARSENS vocals can be appreciated. For a relatively young man and one whose roots do not stem too deep into the genre, he sings the blues with the confidence of a Chicago veteran. His guitar playing also highlights this one.
The title track, "TROUBLEMAKER", closes as well as opens the CD. This track shows several different styles of ARSENS guitar playing abilities and clearly establishes this fine player as a true guitar virtuoso. His is a name that, one day, could become a household name in the blues community.
Too bad, that forty years ago, our countries didn't use blues musicians as ambassadors. Had they, the Cold War would have been non-existent.
You can visit Arsen Shomakhov and Ragtime on the Web at: www.arsenic.blues.ru/
While I was reading through the names of the players and special guests that make up the PORK ROLL PROJECT, several of the names sounded a bit familiar to this usually very forgetful person. Further investigation revealed that indeed, three of the personnel were involved with other ensembles that I have favorably reviewed in the past. Therefore, before even spinning the disc, I already had a good idea that once again, I'd be listening to some real good music. Those names by the way are NEIL "PORKROLL" TAYLOR (guitar) and PAUL MATECKI (piano, guitar and vocals) - formerly reviewed while with 'Melissa Martin and the Rhythm Kings for www.mary4music.com - and special guest MISTY "MISS T" AKERS - formerly reviewed with 'Miss T and the Mosquitoes' for www.BluesWax.com.
Having said that, let me now introduce you to the rest of the band. Completing the PORK ROLL PROJECT are: WILLIE THORTON (harmonica and vocals), JOEY "BIG NOTE" STOUT (organ, guitar and vocals), DOC WHITE (bass and vocals), CHAD EDSTROM (drums), and special guest MICHAEL STANLEY (bass). Now, let me say a few words about some of the great music.
The opening track on "PORK ROLL PROJECT", one of eight originals out of twelve tracks, is a fast and furious funky number called "BORN READY" and from the sound of it, these guys certainly were born ready - ready to play some smokin' music that is. This one features the whole band at their best - the vocals are vigorous, the guitar work is gritty, the harmonica is hot and the rhythm section - led by JOEY on the organ - rips it up. I admire a band that has the courage to open with what may very well be the best track on the CD. That's confidence!
"FILTHY RICH / DIRTY POOR, features a dynamic duet with MISS T, who has an absolutely marvelous voice. Unfortunately, this track was way too short and it was the only one she appeared on. However, WILLIE gets in a good dose of hot harmonica solos and along with DOC on bass, they highlight this one.
"YOU AIN'T SEEN MEAN", is one of the more straight up blues tracks and for that reason alone it is another one of my favorites. I'm sorry to say that with three members of the band listed as vocalists and none of them mentioned as the lead vocalist, I don't know who to give credit to for the fabulous singing on this track. JOEY once again puts on a heck of a performance on the organ and NEIL'S guitar work is absolutely amazing.
"HAVE ANOTHER BEER", advice that I always try to follow, is a very well done, slow, bluesy ballad. This one, in addition to the usual smokin' guitars and harmonica, features some excellent piano playing by PAUL.
"GOOD MORNING BLUES", closes out the "PORK ROLL PROJECT" just like it started, with a smoker. This one is a red-hot shuffle that, unless it's in a coma, is impossible for a body to not respond to. Mine was shaking so much I had to stop typing. It's songs like these that make doing these reviews take so long. Counting the six times I hit replay on this one, it added a good thirty minutes.
Other tracks that appear on "PORK ROLL PROJECT" are "AIN'T MOVIN', JUST GROOVIN", "SOLITARY MAN", "PRODIGAL SON BLUES", "ON A ROLL", "WHAT THE BLUES IS ALL ABOUT", "THE LETTER" and "MIDDLE MAN BLUES".
You can visit The Pork Roll Project on the Web at: www.porkroll-blues.com
Something I read in one of the press releases contained in the promo package I received from the bLUESdUSTERS immediately aroused my curiosity. It went like this - ".......the challenge is to create songs that are fresh and new, yet remain firmly rooted in the great and very traditional genre. Tread the familiar ground and you risk redundancy; stray too far and you risk leaving the entire genre behind...................."
Given a choice, I'll take redundancy 100% of the time. Being a purist, I find nothing wrong with listening to blues that is exactly like it's supposed to be - BLUES. These ears have been trained to reject what the new pioneers are calling blues. Now comes the big question - what exactly will I hear as I listen to the self titled CD "bLUESdUSTERS", by the bLUESdUSTERS? I'm certainly curious and somewhat.................
"PETRIFYD", the opening track had me immediately smiling as it was quite clear the bLUESdUSTERS had not strayed very far at all.
The nucleus of the bLUESdUSTERS is JOHN O. NELSON and LEONARD "GRIF" GRIFFE. Both are lead vocalists and lead and rhythm guitarists with JOHN also playing slide and bass. Additional players include: RICHARD "LIPS" LAWRENCE on piano; MICHAEL VANNICE on organ; TOM STAMPER, KENT CLICKENBEARD, PETE MILLER and JIM BEATTY on drums; RANDY & RENEE JORDON on background vocals.
"SOFT SPOT (FOR A HARD HEADED WOMAN)" Is one of this discs many highlights. Be it JOHN or LEONARD, the lead vocals on this one, as well as all of the other tracks, are outstanding. LEONARD'S burning guitar solos and RICHARD'S mastery at the piano make this one stand out.
"PACK IT UP" is hot. This is rippin', rockin' and smokin' blues. The lead and slide guitar, as they do on most of the tracks, tear this one up. Additionally, the track is nearly stolen by RICHARD and his piano. I certainly will make sure I look for more on this fine player.
The next two tracks I'm going to mention, although both very different from each other, are certainly two of my personal favorites by the 'dUSTERS. "BEHIND THE WHEEL" is a straight up, just the way I like it, knee slappin', toe tappin' blues shuffle. The bands stated influences of Muddy and B.B. and Buddy show on this one. With the rhythm section locked into a very nice and tight groove behind them, JOHN and LEONARD's vocal harmonizing and some great blues guitar highlight this track. "TIME IS RIGHT" is a very slow, very bluesy ballad - the kind that just stops you in your tracks and puts you in 'groove mode'. You know what I'm talkin' about......the kind of song where automatically and simultaneously, your eyes close, your heel starts softly tapping the floor and your neck becomes a slinky that your head effortlessly bobs back and forth on. Man it just doesn't get any better than that. The bLUESdUSTERS nail it on this one.
"BELIEVE ME" is a funky sounding track which, as you'd expect, features a real hot rhythm section. On this one, another of the bands listed influences is quite noticeable - the guitar work is very reminiscent of the late, great Albert Collins.
In as much as some of the tracks that I didn't mention certainly do show that the bLUESdUSTER are a band with a bit of their own style and interpretation, it's quite apparent that the band has not strayed too far at all.. This is one hell of a blues band.
You can visit the bLUESdUSTERS on the Web at: www.bluesdusters.com/
Purchase a copy of "bLUESdUSTERS" directly from us by clicking HERE
CD's from good, swing-blues bands are the hardest bands to write reviews on. Once I start the review, it seems to take me forever to finish. The problem is I either have to stop typing 'cause I'm jumping all around in my chair or I find myself trying to type 87 words a minute to keep up with the music and it the review comes out looking something like this - ljjellsd kssiels, wrighsfopr kqzxyelsdjf.
"GOIN' DOWNTOWN" by the JUMP CITY BAND is one of those CD's. The disc is filled with lots of hot music that's impossible to sit still to. The JUMP CITY BAND consists of KIP LONDON on lead vocals, guitar and back up vocals; PETE KELLY on bass guitar and lead vocals; BOB ENIK on guitar and slide guitar; GARY EDELSON on drums; and JIM WARSHAUER on sax.
Hailing from Massachusetts, the JUMP CITY BAND has that New England swing thing down pat. Their suave, groovy sound is a bit reminiscent to the sound of some of their neighboring predecessors - Roomful of Blues and the Love Dogs are two that immediately come to mind.
Although there is only one original on this disc of 13 tracks, the music is all quite good. I don't think I'll ever live to hear a version of "UNCHAIN MY HEART" that can compare to the late, great Ray Charles' version, but the guys do a real nice job on it. The vocals are excellent and the job that JIM does replacing the piano with the sax is awesome.
"MELLOW SAXOPHONE" is very nicely done. It makes several jumps, back and forth, from a mystical, ritualistic beat featuring some great drum work by GARY to a hot rocking number with JIM wailing on sax. The track is highlighted by some very cool scat from KIP. There is nothing mellow at all about this one.
A Henry Mancini piece called "SHOT IN THE DARK" was a very nice retro sounding track from the Ventures era. Unfortunately, this 2:33 track, as well as with a few other good tracks on "GOIN' DOWNTOWN", was just a little too short.
"SICK AND TIRED" is exactly the type of song I made reference to in the opening paragraph. This one had me bouncing. The rhythm section is all over this one with the slide guitar, lead guitar and sax take turns tearing it up. Another very well done number.
"PUT YOUR LOVE AWAY", the discs only original song, features lots more great slide work by BOB. The song has an eerie resemblance to one of my favorite tunes - Leopard Skinned Pill Box Hat.
"RUNNING ON A BLUE FLAME", and "HIDE AWAY are the discs two instrumentals, and they are also two of the discs highlights. On these two tracks you get a taste of just how good everyone in this band is. Pete does some very nice bass work and everyone is just tuned into each other on these. Good stuff.
"GOIN' DOWNTOWN" is an excellent effort from the JUMP CITY BAND. If they can stretch out some of those great jams they get into past an average of more than 3:30 and come up with a few more original songs, who knows....... their next CD may just find them "HEADIN' UPTOWN"
You can visit the Jump City Band on the Web at: www.jumpcityband.com/