The Jimmy Zee Band
Road house blues, with its fusion of funk, rock and blues, transcends all types of taste and appeals to a large audience. I once attended a blues festival in London, Ontario, and to my surprise, people of all ages, styles, class, and creed were there enjoying the music and comradeship. Rarely is a genre specific festival so varied in attendance. Unfortunately, I don't think The Jimmy Zee Band was playing that night, and after hearing their new release Ride for the first time recently, I really wish they had been tearing that stage apart.
Jimmy Zee and his band have hit charts across Canada, the US, Europe, and Japan and have garnered an incredible amount award nominations and industry attention. Their cover of "Roxy Roller" on 2010's Devil Take Me Down was named one of The Toronto Star's top 10 remakes of all time! These guys must be doing something right.
After several spins of Ride, I really couldn't find anything on this record that I didn't like. I was thrilled to hear fuzzed out harmonica on the opening track "Ride", and when Zee's vocals kicked in I immediately became a fan. They're gritty as sandpaper and powerful as a diesel engine. The guitar tones are tasteful and sweet on the ears, the beat is steady and danceable, and every note is played with just the perfect balance of nonchalance and purpose. This album comes across as completely natural, relaxed, and professional.
Ride is well worth seeking out online, and while you're surfing around there, why not buy some tickets to the Calgary International Blues Festival, where Jimmy Zee and his band will be making a special appearance this year.
I Belong To The Band (A Tribute to Rev. Gary Davis)
Old time spirituals were one of the first bricks to be laid in modern music history. They are the foundation for every genre of popular music we enjoy today and were pivotal in the formation of blues and country alike. The style of Rory Block's latest release I Belong to the Band follows the gospel tunes of the 1930's that were spun in with blues melodies and counterpoint base lines.
This recording is a tribute to the gospel blues legend Rev. Gary Davis. All of the songs on I Belong to the Band were originally written and played by him. In the CD's booklet, Block carefully retells the story of visiting Davis in his Bronx apartment in the 60's. She listened to him play and absorbed his love for the old time songs of his youth.
All of the picking and singing is done by Block, including slide lead and vocal harmonies. She details how she struggled to learn the guitar styling's displayed on this record in order to pay tribute, and her struggles paid off. I was extremely impressed by the picking work here. These old songs are not easy, as it is often one guitar playing bass, rhythm, and lead all at once in an open tuning.
Though the guitar work is fancy, I felt as though Block was often straining out of her comfortable vocal range. Either too high or too low, it seemed very awkward to me. Her dynamics were also very shifty. That being said, I did take into account the intended raw nature of this collection of songs, though it doesn't completely excuse the hit and miss vocals.
Overall, I feel that this is a fine tribute and a worthwhile listen for anyone wanting to hear those great American gospel tunes in a new light.