Well folks, I just have one review for you this week. I spent a lot of time with this disc recently and ended up writing 800 words on it and I could have kept going. But don’t let that scare you!
I hope you enjoy the review and I hope you find something interesting for your ears.
Bruce Katz Band
American Showplace Music
Released on November 11, 2014
Bruce Katz is an in-demand sideman and has been for over 25 years. He has appeared on over 70 albums including six with Blues Maestro Ronnie Earl. Bruce spent nearly six years as a member of Gregg Allman’s band and has recorded and/or performed with John Hammond, Delbert McClinton, Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Little Milton, Maria Muldaur, Debbie Davies, and notably, Mighty Sam McClain. During Bruce’s nearly five year run with Ronnie Earl’s Broadcasters, he toured the world, wrote and co-wrote many songs, such as “The Colour of Love,” “Ice Cream Man,” and “Hippology” and won the Downbeat Critics Poll for Best Blues Album of 1996 for Grateful Heart. Bruce Katz’ solo projects retain much of what makes Ronnie Earl’s music so powerful. It has emotional depth, integrity, and beauty. Plus, he’s not afraid to rock it up once in while either, and when he does you better hold on to your hat. Homecoming, the new album from Bruce Katz Band captures all those elements and through his power of sonic alchemy presents us with musical gold.
The title track gets things going with an easy beat shuffle, with Bruce laying down the chords on organ while guest guitarist Jimmy Bennett of Alexis P. Suter Band glides through the tune on lap steel. The tune reminds me of a lazy Sunday, sitting lakeside, and waiting on a fish to bite. Katz’ organ is the comfortable cushion on the porch glider, Ralph Rosen’s drums provide the swing, and Bennett and Bruce Katz Band guitarist Chris Vitarello trade licks like frogs snapping at flies while I sip a big old glass of Sweet Tea. “King Of Decatur” continues the laid back Southern feel, even with its funky Little Feat style of New Orleans funk. Drummer Randy Ciarlante sits in for an adhoc NOLA drum section and sings, while Jimmy Bennett’s lap steel conjures everyone from Lowell George to Sonny Landreth. How is it that Bruce doesn’t play accordion on this one?
“Santa Fe Blues” has an old style piano boogie feel, something you’d expect to hear in a saloon in a train town of the Old West. Bruce’s chops on piano are stellar. Every note is crisp and clear. The first time I listened to it I didn’t notice someone was singing. I was wrapped up in Bruce’s piano playing. I was looking at the liner notes and realized John Hammond sings the tune and plays guitar. I had to go back and listen again, and again, and… you get the picture. I love their treatment of this old Lightnin’ Hopkins tune. It’s a truly standout performance from Mr. Katz. I eventually realized John Hammond does a damned fine job singing too. Elmore James’ “Wild About You Baby” gets the Hound Dog Taylor roadhouse blues barrelhouse all night long treatment and it’s one of those moments you’ve always been waiting for. It’s great musicians playing ragged ass blues and getting it right.
“Amelia” is a playful piano driven tune Katz wrote for his granddaughter. The beat is relentless like a toddler might be and the music has a happy-go-lucky ebullience. “Time Flies” is a short and sweet swinging piece with quick moving unison playing between the guitar and organ. Rumor has it that Katz is one hell of a bass player. His left hand sure lays down a beauty of a bass line on “Time Flies.” It had me wondering who the bass player was, but to my surprise none was listed. Bruce is a dynamo. “Time Flies” captures the essence of his potent trio. It brings together telepathic playing, incredible chops, and memorable music.
Homecoming is split roughly half and half between instrumentals and songs with vocalists. Jimmy Bennett and John Hammond sing two songs each, Randy Ciarlante sings one and BKB guitarist Chris Vitarello sings his song “The Sky’s The Limit.” Chris sings well and is an exquisite guitarist. He finds the perfect style for each song and even his improvisations sound composed. He gets the right tones, the right notes, and the right attitude. Drummer Ralph Rosen certainly knows how to kick up some dust. He is more than a drummer though. He is a percussionist. He finds all the right accents, and plays eclectic beats that make perfect sense for the tunes.
Homecoming is a crowning achievement for Bruce Katz and his cohorts. The Bruce Katz Band’s music has the air of unflagging tradition yet it blurs the lines between genres. It is of itself and beyond itself at the same time. It’s like Mozart with a jazz trio playing at Junior’s Juke Joint on a Thursday night. There’s no name for it and it doesn’t really need one. At a recent show, Bruce was heard to say, several times, that “It’s all Blues.” I think we can go with that.