Big Gene & Danny Lee’s Loud Pack
The Memphis Mix EP
The Tennessee-based Loud Pack ply an especially appealing version of contemporary blues. Their Memphis Mix EP was originally slated to be a full-length album. When half the recorded tracks vanished (computers improve our lives, don’t you know?), however, the band decided to make what remained in the can available as an EP, in order to raise funds to help the Pack take part in the 2013 International Blues Challenge.
It’s a good thing for the rest of us that they did. The Loud Pack is a tremendously exciting band, firmly rooted in traditional blues but with a solid dose of sweet soul. Dig the very first track on the Mix EP, “Gonna Be Fine.” Steve Michel (guitar), Ryan Johnson (bass) and Jared White (drums) lay down a solid, mid-tempo shuffle. Stevie Jones’s organ pad tips the scale in the direction of greasy Memphis soul. And when Big Gene Chandler begins to sing…well, it’s all over. He’s got that elusive “it,” that edgy, emotive quality to the voice that all the best deep soul singers had. Among contemporaries, Tré Williams, Tad Robinson, Curtis Salgado, John Németh, and Ryan Shaw are there, and not many others. Danny Lee Michel’s guitar lines are terse and incisive, a bit jagged (the better to create tension), and eminently toneful. A great melody and sensible lyrics seal the deal.
“Gonna Be Fine” establishes high production values that characterize the rest of the disc, but it’s hardly a template: this is a varied set unified by an unshakable, soul-blues sensibility. “Good Lovin’” is a powerful slow number, rooted in the pure blues approach of the rhythm section and in a dynamite organ part, pushed into edgier territory by the guitar fills and leads. “Tennessee Blues” alternates hard funk verses with deeply melodic choruses; its bold chord changes and mood shifts give Big Gene the chance to demonstrate a wide range, while Danny Lee dials in an aggressive (yet still blues-approved) sound, making his super-slinky lines pop out of the mix.
The Loud Pack plays straight ahead blues just as effectively. Consider the rhythm arrangement behind “Fess Up,” which recalls Magic Sam’s groundbreaking infusion of soul into his blues, with perhaps a bit of the drive and intensity of Otis Clay’s live sides. There’s a great, fat-toned organ solo from Jones here. “Change In Things” offers a slower groove, based in Danny Lee’s Robert Lockwood Jr.-inspired guitar lines. The lead work on this cut is left to guest artist Paul Linden, a veteran of Sean Costello’s band, whose swooping, imaginative, and athletic harmonica lines echo Walter Horton’s.
Based on The Memphis Mix EP, it is hard to believe that Big Gene and Danny Lee’s Loud Pack did not advance to the IBC finals. Their songwriting is appealingly catchy. The rhythm section has an unfailingly good feel, and the keys and guitar up front balance the solo options and the sound. Both Jones and Michel have terrific instincts, and play with creativity and great tone. And Big Gene is a truly exceptional singer. This project blends as well as anything out there a pure blues aesthetic with just the right elements of modern R&B, and avoids any whiff of the pre-packaged sound that permeates so much contemporary soul blues. I can’t say enough good things about this must-hear music.
Digital files for review purposes were provided by the artist.