It’s time again for our weekly CD reviews. This is our first installment of 2015. I took a little break over the holidays but now we’re back! This week I’m taking a look at a pair of albums that evaded our pages last year and a brand new disc out just this week.
A lot of CDs come in the mail and the unfortunate reality is the bigger names get preference. I try to cover as much ground as possible though, so I make a pile of interesting stuff for those times I can include something off the beaten path. I make a lot of these decisions based on the covers. Album covers are important, ladies and gents. I’ll go off on a tangent about that soon enough in the reviews below but if your cover is eye-catching that will give you the edge almost every time, whether it’s in a store, a web site, or a merch table at a festival. Remember that next time your manager has your band standing next to a tree in their back yard. Anyway…
Without further adieu, I present Terry Quiett Band, Brent Johnson, and Josh Hoyer And The Shadowboxers
Lucky Bag Records
Released on March 25, 2014
I didn’t know anything about Terry Quiett Band but I was intrigued by the cover of their 2014 album Taking Sides when I came across it in a stack of discs I ran out of time for last year. Make no mistake: covers are an important part of the package. Since I am a reviewer, there’s a higher chance than usual that I’ll give it a listen no matter what. Still, there are hundreds of Blues releases each year, often from artists you’ve never heard of, even if, like the Terry Quiett Band they’ve had a long career already. The front cover of Taking Sides melds the big sky heartland and resonator guitar with the luminous big city skyline and a three pick-up electric guitar. The guitars meet in the middle implying this band is proudly fusing elements of the blues into a hybrid. Your imagination fills in the details until you plop the disc in your player and you’re greeted by the raspy electrified resonator as Quiett peels off riff after riff. It’s exactly as advertised and it’s glorious. But maybe I would have missed this one if the cover was a band shot, up against a pick-up truck in a parking lot somewhere. The cover brings you in; it’s a hook almost as important as the hooks in the music. Personally I’m sick of boring blues album covers, but when you see a cover like this you know the band is serious and they want to make a statement. Hopefully you’ll like the statement, but at least they were bold enough to go for it and try to catch your eye in the midst of a sea of unknown entities releasing CDs with nothing more than their picture and generic Arial font lettering.
Thankfully, the music within meets the expectations set by the cover. The album opens with slide on steel as the resonator is caught in a rollin’ and tumblin’ groove that just won’t stop. Immediately you realized the promise of the cover is being realized. The track has the frantic energy of a city and the tone center of Grandma’s back porch. “Cut The Rope” is sinister psychedelic blues. If you’re going to play slide through a wah-wah pedal I’ll probably follow you like a puppy dog chasing down bacon. The accelerated rave-up toward the end will leave you howling for more.
The back cover makes a clear distinction between Side A and Side B, as if this were a record. In many ways, the tunes marked for Side B represent another side of the band’s style. It starts off with a smoldering minor key blues that burns the whole damned barn down by the time it’s over. Much of Side B brings the tempo down, and gives the band a chance to shine on some extended cuts that are in many ways more intense than the hard driving Side A. The two sides provide an additional surprise by not being what you might expect. I admit I was thinking I’d be hearing acoustic driven music on Side B after the rampaging first half. I was pleasantly surprised. Whether it’s Side A or B, the songs are superbly crafted and arranged. Mississippi Hal Reed blows a mean harp on “Come The Morning” and the horns on “Gimme Some” deliver knock out blows.
Terry Quiett is an evocative singer and a Hell of a guitar player whether he’s playing standard or slide. Sometimes it seems like everybody’s playing slide guitar these days, like it was just discovered and it has to be tried. The results are good, bad, and often ugly. Slide guitar playing requires your attention. Proper intonation is the key, but you have to dampen the strings, limit the noise, and for the love of Elmore James find a new lick to play. Terry Quiett sounds like he has put in the time and effort. He plays some borrowed lines and who can blame him. Some classic slide riffs are so fun to play, you just have to. But he incorporates all kinds of slide licks into his songs; sometimes for accent, sometimes to make a full statement. His hands are steady. He’s probably at a point where he doesn’t think about it much which allows the music to flow from within. The feel of this album and his playing makes all the difference. The feel is honest. This band brings out all sides and somewhere in the middle is the Truth, which is this: Taking Sides gathers inspiration from all sides of the blues and makes up one terrific album.
Set The World On Fire
Released on April 8, 2014
Brent Johnson was a guitar prodigy as a child. When New Orleans’ legendary “Braille Blues Daddy” Bryan Lee heard Brent’s playing, Lee invited him into his Blues Power Band. With Lee’s band, Brent has recorded and toured the globe for the last ten years. Between tours with Bryan Lee, Brent hit the road with John Perkins on drums and Bill Blok on bass. They played Brent’s original compositions of which he is very proud. The group was met with an enthusiastic response from crowds. Bolstered by the appreciation of the fans, the band decided to go into the recording studio. Together, with Wayne Lohr on keyboards and a few special guests like Sonny Landreth and Alvin Youngblood Hart, they put together the blazing new record, Set The World On Fire.
Johnson is committed to writing his own songs which stems from a long-time love of guitarist/singer bandleaders. Johnson has said his favorite music is “raw, honest and dirty.” This attitude surely informs the songs he writes and the few covers he chose for the album. The production captures a live band feel with earthy vintage tones and all the jagged edges sticking out daring you Lyrically, he does not use elaborate metaphors. He prefers simple and direct such as “Don’t buy a ticket if you don’t want to take a ride.”
Brent Johnson’s guitar playing is lyrical. He sings, but his guitar is another voice for him and the two work together like Siamese twins line cooking at the local diner. From his tones to his notes, he finds the right combination of flavors for every song. Not every song is raw and dirty however, but they all come off as honest. Unfortunately you can hear when a band is going through the motions. Thankfully that does not occur with Brent and his band. Even the guests come to play their best. Alvin Youngblood Hart trades blows with Johnson like Frank Costanza on Festivus, and Sonny Landreth lights up “Long Way Back To New Orleans” with his inimitable slide guitar sound and style. Brent Johnson is a fine slide player too and he revs it up like a ’57 Big Block Chevy on John Lee Hooker’s “Meet Me In The Bottom.”
The record’s tour de force is a grinding 13 minute workout on “As The Years Go Passing By.” This emotional roller coaster should probably be accompanied by Jack Daniels and Prozac. It is an impassioned performance that will bring guitar worshipers to the album. However, based on Johnson’s passion for original material I have to wonder why he didn’t write a minor key Blues of his own for this showcase. Maybe it just felt right to do it this way. It sure sounds right. Actually, all of Set The World On Fire sounds right. It sounds like a band of brothers laying down music they love. It is free of pretense and schtick. It aims at the core of the Blues ideology of lightening your load through music. Brent Johnson’s debut album will help you. Hucklebuck your way out to the store and get one.
Living By The Minute
Released on January 13, 2015
Josh Hoyer and The Shadowboxers is an up and coming Soul/R&B/Funk band from Lincoln, NE. Successes in their first two years of playing include being nominated for Blues Blast Awards Debut of the Year, entering the top ten of RMR Charts for Soul AND R&B for over 30 weeks, being named the 2013 Omaha Entertainment Winner for Soul Artist of the Year, and a nomination for Artist of the Year for 2014. The band formed in late 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a talent buyer and bartender at the world-famous ZOO Bar for the last ten years or so, bandleader Hoyer has witnessed and joined several of the top roots and blues artists touring the country. As a bandleader he has won numerous local music awards and his current band, The Shadowboxers, includes some of the areas most revered and accomplished musicians. The Midwest has become fertile ground for talented young blues and roots players over the last decade. Josh Hoyer and The Shadowboxers continue the trend with their new album Living By The Minute.
I don’t know how, but Hoyer, a white guy from Nebraska, sounds like a black guy from Philly. The band has a soul sound like the finest MFSB mixed with New York City Funk, and Memphis Rhythm & Blues. The backing vocals from Hanna Bendler, Kim Moser, and Megan Spain are beautiful. Their harmonies are rich yet sparse and can cut you to the core. They have a definite Sixties tone to their voices, reminiscent of the Delfonics and other groups of the era. Bassist Josh Bargar seems like the driving force in many of the songs. His bass playing blurs the line between percussion and melody. He plays lead bass but it’s never over-powering. Even in a slow tune like the title track “Living By The Minute” Bargar’s bass lines give the song a little punchiness that if provided by drums would be too much. All the songs on the disc are expertly arranged and mixed. In “Misfit Children” the bass again centers the song while the horns and guitars bring the funk. Hoyer’s organ playing, especially his Hammond B2 – yes B2 – is tremendous. He weaves his lines in between the rhythm section and lays chords on top like gravy.
On “Over The City” Hoyer’s voice sounds like John Bell from Widespread Panic. In my mind I could hear Panic covering this tune. “Let it Out” does what it says. The first 20 minutes of the record are fairly mellow, mid-tempo R&B songs but this one rocks out a little with a fast pace, stop-time rhythm changes, hot guitar solos, and Hoyer belting it out with help from the energetic backup vocalists. The disc closes with three up-tempo tunes. I don’t know if “11:11 333” is some oddball Numerology reference or what, but the damned song is funky. I caught myself repeating the numbers like a babbling fool along with Hoyer as he sang. “Blood And Bone” is another showcase for Bendler, Moser, and Spain, and “Don’t Turn Away” brings it to a close with all the traits that make this band special – percolating bass, swirling organ, funky beats, swooping horns, dynamic songwriting, and those amazing voices. You might as well put this album on repeat; don’t turn away!
About midway through my second listen of this disc I realized I was completely drawn in, which surprised me because the first time it wasn’t doing much for me. Yes, first impressions are important but Living By The Minute reminded me of the importance of recorded music. It is there to explore, experience, and examine. Sometimes you need to live with it a few times before you truly get it, and when you do it is very much worth the effort and can make all the difference in your outlook in general. Josh Hoyer and The Shadowboxers have made one of those records that reveal more of itself with each listen. This quality makes it a more significant achievement and means this band is on the right track. Give Josh Hoyer And The Shadowboxers and their new album Living By The Minute all the time they deserve.