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Published: 2012/11/21
by Brian Robbins

Various Artists
Alive At The Deep Blues Fest

Alive Naturalsound Records

Be forewarned, boys and girls: running your thumbnail through the plastic wrap and pulling Alive At The Deep Blues Fest out of the package is like opening a half-gallon of bourbon and throwing the cap out the window. You touch this album off and things are going to happen …

Recorded at Bayport, Minnesota’s Deep Blues Fest this past summer, Alive is a sampler of rocking blues at its best, with plenty o’ grease and grit and growl. You might expect that a compilation album with seven different bands would have its low points, but not here: the energy never slacks. Every human on this album plays his living ass off.

The Buffalo Killers kick things off with “River Water” – a lesson in the classic power trio sound. (Listen at the 2:30 mark when Andy Gabbard takes off on the guitar with his brother Zachary’s walloping bass and the rolling and tumbling drums of Joey Sebaali right behind. That’s what I’m talking about – right there.) Things take a turn for the Humble Pie-ish when The Buffalo Killers roar into “It’s A Shame” – due in no small way to the raunchy, swaggering blues harp of special guest Mark “Porkchop” Holder. Holder – who also sits in with Left Lane Cruiser later on – needs to be signed by somebody, now. The man is a blues harp monster who deserves to be heard by the rest of the world.

The essence of legends wafts through this music: Radio Moscow’s “Hold On Me” is pure Hendrixian wah-pedaled voodoo; their run through “Little Eyes” is total Electric Ladyland -style tar pit bellow. “24 Hour Blues” and “Rambling On My Mind” find Left Lane Cruiser crunching out the groove like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. And if The Faces had hailed from Alabama, they would’ve sounded like Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires on “The Red, Red Dirt Of Home”. (Bains and the boys corner the soul market on Alive with a powerhouse version of “There Is A Bomb In Gilead”.)

It’s Yusef Quotah’s keyboard work that propels Brian Olive’s two tunes into a space of their own. Quotah doles out sheets of B-3 behind the midnight jungle-thump rhythms of “Travelling”; his flicks of straight-up electric piano add tension to “Bonelle” (and hang on tight when Olive pulls the pin on a gloriously fuzzed-out guitar solo). John The Conqueror only contribute one tune to Alive At The Deep Blues Fest, but it’s a killer: “Three More” is all street cool and blues lurch – crash and wail that gives way to midnight tippy-toe about halfway through before slamming back into full roar.

The last two cuts on Alive are by Henry’s Funeral Shoe, a duo (brothers Aled and Brennig Clifford) from – I’m serious – South Wales. No matter: the Cliffords more than hold their own with their Alive Naturalsound labelmates when it comes to playing the blues, baby. The song “Henry’s Funeral Shoe” is a total two-man tightrope act, with multiple tempo changes and near-meltdown guitar squall that leave you with no doubts that these lads mean business.

The booklet that comes with Alive At The Deep Blues Fest is fairly sparse on notes (basically band lineups and thank-yous) but the photos throughout it say it all: a lot of grins; a lot of sweat; different bands/different approaches/common bond. These folks came to play.

Loud.

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