Muddy Waters famously, or infamously, said depending on your perspective, “The blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll.” The blues of course had lots of babies including but not limited to country, soul, gospel and early r&b music just to site some examples. I like to think that the blues, country, gospel and early R&B had a baby they named it The Blasters. That sometimes incorrigible child is all grown up now and has a brand new album that was released on June 19th. The record has all of the elements of country, soul, hillbilly, gospel and of course first generation rock and roll with the DNA of the blues coursing through its veins.
The band’s debut album on Rip Cat Records entitled, Fun on a Saturday Night is a twelve song collection of tunes that sounds like where the Blasters should be at this stage in their career. It is a solid, confident sounding record that reflects the sensibilities of their leader Phil Alvin. His voice sounds like everything you have ever loved about American roots music and yet is like nothing you have ever heard. Alvin fronts a band of three formidable musicians who can careen down virtually any of the bumpy back roads of America’s musical heritage without spilling their drinks.
Those musicians are fellow original Blasters, bassist Johnny Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman along with longtime Blaster guitarist Keith Wyatt. It is Phil’s show however as he is the albums co-producer along with Rip Cat Records’ founder and president, Scott Abeyta. The singer also plays guitar, piano and harmonica on the album and even painted the original artwork that graces the cover of the CD.
The album opens with a swinging danceable rave up entitled, Well Oh Well. The CD makes a sudden left turn as Alvin along with guest vocalist Exene Cervenka do a wonderful take on the old June Carter/Johnny Cash tune, Jackson. Both vocalists are up to the task. Keith Wyatt takes a wonderfully twangy guitar solo. Alvin demonstrates a vocal versatility in this tune that perhaps might come as surprise to even long time Blaster fans.
Breath of My Love is a Phil Alvin original and is the most disturbing ditty I think I have ever heard. The Jordinaire style background vocals and 4/4 time signature stand in stark contrast to a tale of a knife wielding lover. The tune’s lyrical content juxtaposed to the music makes for a dark comedic listening experience.
The album’s title track finds Alvin and the band in more familiar road house rocking form, as Alvin’s voice strains to let the listener know, “The band is rockin’ and having fun on a Saturday night.”
No More Nights by Myself is a slow blues that opens with Johnny Bazz’s walking bass line and Bill Bateman’s brushes on his drum kit. Alvin’s acoustic harmonica soon enters the scene to create an atmospheric blues moodscape before he tells a tale of a love that is long gone.
On the next track the band turns the old Magic Sam tune Love Me with a Feeling into a full blown rockabilly stomper. Keith Wyatt’s guitar rides rough shod all over the tune at breakneck speed.
I Don’t Want Cha is a mid tempo blues shuffle that allows listeners, and presumably dancers, a chance to catch their breath before the band plays the long time Blaster concert favorite, yet never before recorded, Please, Please, Please. It should be noted that I can’t think of any singer that is willing to take on Johnny Cash and James Brown on the same record. To his great credit Alvin makes it work. If that isn’t an accomplishment all its own, the album even has Alvin doing some hillbilly yodeling on the tune, The Yodeling Mountaineer.
Rock My Blues Away finds Alvin turning himself into a Big Joe Turner style R&B shouter as the band follows its leader right into Los Angeles Central Avenue circa 1952.
Penny is a relentless rocker in which Alvin’s spoken word treatment of the tune is reminiscent of the kind of vocal presentation to which his younger brother’s audiences have become accustomed. The tune Penny was co- written by all four members of the band.
The album closes with Alvin doing what he has done in performance many times through the years and that is sing the Dave Alvin penned Blaster classic, Marie, Marie in Spanish. The song Maria, Maria is played this time around as an acoustic ballad and features Kid Ramos on bajo sexto.
The Blasters are a band that has had a long and well documented career.They have had some very talented band members who helped shape their unique sound come and go through the years as well. The great two piece horn section of Steve Berlin and the late great New Orleans R&B pioneer Lee Allen are long gone. The rollicking barrelhouse piano pounder Gene Taylor is not part of this recording. Of course the writing and distinctive guitar of Dave Alvin is not part of this album either. To what degree Blaster fans can look at this band and album for what it is, as opposed to what it is not... will be the key to the success of this CD. I don’t think they will have to search too hard to find a very satisfying listening experience as four great musicians deliver a rock solid recording.
- David Mac