"DO WHAT 'CHA DO", the new release by LI'L RONNIE AND THE GRAND DUKES, could very well be the pole that vaults this band to the next level. It consists of eleven very well performed and very well written originals with a nice mix of Chicago and West Coast blues. Add that to having the master at having his band be constantly in a tight groove - ANSON FUNDERBURGH - as the records producer, and this one is going to be a sure hit.
The GRAND DUKES consist of RONNIE OWENS on harmonica and lead vocals, MICHAEL DUTTON on guitars and vocals, TOMMY HANNIGAN on electric and acoustic bass, GEORGE SHEPPARD on drums and STEVE UTT on piano and Hammond B3. Special guests on this project included TERRY HUMMER on tenor sax, NATE HAWKS on baritone sax and RATTLESNAKE SLIM on shakers.
Ronnie's style is so diversified that I'm led to believe he has had many influences. As I listen to this CD, I hear a lot of different sounds, all of them good. Several tracks brought William Clarke, Darrell Nulisch, Sugar Ray Norcia and Rod Piazza to mind.
"JUST LIKE A WOMAN" is one of the tracks that helped fulfill Ronnie's child hood dream of putting a Chicago blues band together. This one is right out of a MUDDY WATERS mold. From Ronnie's vocals and harp, from Mikes's guitar, and from Steve's piano, this was straight up blues at it's best.
"LIFE'S CHANGES" had the band in an equally hot Chicago style groove. On this one Ronnie switches his style of harp to that of one of my all time favorite players - Jimmy Reed.
"LOVE TRANCE", had me doing the mambo in my chair while tapping the keypad like it was a conga drum. George, Tommy, Rattlesnake and Steve had the rhythm just right on this one.
Nowhere on this CD is Anson's influence more apparent than on "JUST A FOOL". Just as he always has his ROCKETS, he now has the GRAND DUKES into a very tight groove. This is everyone in the band being featured simultaneously, or as I like to think of it, seven musicians playing from one brain. It's baffling how perfect this can and does sound.
Before I could even get to the point of saying anything about the last track, "STILL SWEATIN", I had to listen to it about a 7-8 times. The first half of a dozen times it was totally impossible for me to concentrate on anything other than the music. It's an instrumental that just carried me away. Right off the bat the horn section locks into a groove behind a very hot organ solo which slowly switches to the background as the horns take over - the transition was so smooth. Eventually the guitar and harp get in some hot licks while the whole band just smokes. Being an instrumental could hold it back, but this one has song of the year written all over it.
All of the tracks not mentioned are as good as those mentioned. Now that I think about it, I could have very easily done this review with one word - WOW!
Going as far back as I can remember, I've always had a strong interest for the lady singers who could belt out a good bluesy tune. As a young boy who grew up listening to Dion and the Belmonts and other white late fifties teen idols, I still recall enjoying my fathers Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald records. That interest continued into the late sixties and early seventies when some of my favorite groups, such as "Mother Earth", "Stone the Crows" and "Big Brother and the Holding Company" featured such powerhouse singers as Tracy Nelson, Maggie Bell and Janis Joplin respectively.
Fast forward forty years and enter MICHELE LUNDEEN. In a genre where almost everyone in her gender thinks it's necessary to sound like Bonnie Raitt, Michele's passionate, soulful, powerful yet versatile style separates herself from the pack.
On "SONG INSIDE ME", which features nine of her own songs, Michele assembled a band as equally commanding as herself. Members of this ensemble have played with Elvin Bishop, Norton Buffalo, Coco Montoya, Roy Rogers, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Dan Hicks, Candye Kane and Etta James. That's a blues festival in itself.
The nucleus of the band features MICHELE LUNDEEN on vocals; JOHNNY "V" VERNAZZA on guitars, slide and baritone; STEVE EVANS on bass; GARY 'SMACKY" SILVA on drums; AUSTIN DELONE on keyboards; The many special guests include ED EARLY, trombone; ROY ROGERS, slide guitar; TOM POOLE, trumpet; DAVE STONE, tenor sax; CHARLES BURTON, guitars;TIM CASH, bass; RIC LEE, drums; ARISTOTLE GIORGIO, harmonica; BEN MOORE, organ; SUE PALMER, piano; VERNELLE ANDERS & GAIL MULDROW, background vocals.
These particular tracks, among a mix of funk, soul, jazz, R&B, rock and hard core blues were some of the higher-lights on a CD filled with highlights. Most of them are Michele's originals.
The title track "SONG INSIDE ME", gave me chills. I could listen to twelve tracks like this and love every minute of it. This song is what Michele is all about - a powerful vocalist that commands attention. The blues gets belted out at it's best on this track. The instrumental break features lots of great organ playing by Ben Moore.
I can't recall ever hearing a better version of "YOU'RE GONNA MAKE ME CRY", a cover by O. V. Wright. When this song was written, the author had no doubt hoped that someday Michele would sing it. Well, she did, and she did it with perfection. The level of confidence she exudes along with the depth of soul she feels - and makes the listener feel, is masterful.
"NO MONEY, NO HONEY" gives Michele a bad case of the blues. Gee, no money and no honey would give anyone the blues. This one highlights Michele's vocal versatility. It's a soft jazzy blues number that's done in the style of a sultry cabaret singer. I'd love to see this one done live. Ed Early on Trombone makes this one even better.
"QUALIFY MY LOVE" shows Michele's ability to take her vocal range from one extreme to the other. Unlike the several powerful tracks that have impressed me so far, this is a very soft, very slow and very romantic song. Nevertheless, it is equally impressive. Johnny V's. real smooth lead guitar makes this one a double treat.
"I NEED A DOG" hotly closes out this wonderful production. Everyone's on fire on this one and the rhythm section absolutely tears it up. Whoever dubbed this very talented, very attractive and very fiery lady the "Queen of Steam" absolutely had to have done it after hearing this sizzler.
"SONG INSIDE OF ME" will surely be one of the finalists for the 2005 BLEWZZY AWARD.