Jimmy Alter & Jason Bone • The Bottom Line

Jason Bone & Jimmy Alter

The Bottom Line EP

2014

http://www.jimmyaltermusic.com

 

Jimmy Alter’s soon-to-be-released five song record follows an earlier EP, Rock With Me. The young guitarist from St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and his band mate, guitarist Jason Bone, sing blues-based music with heart and skill. The pair has selected this short set wisely, for although all of the songs are covers, none is unknown (or, with one exception, even obscure), yet none has been frequently re-recorded, thereby introducing an element of surprise while maintaining some familiarity. That’s the way to do it!

The program opens with a bass line and hammering piano, both straight out of Little Richard, kicking off a raucous number that proves to be “Player,” an exciting throwback classic by Nick Curran. The band dispatches that tune in 2:20, just enough time to squeeze in a couple choruses of rock ‘n’ roll guitar inspired by Berry and Richards. Next up is the obscurity–I had to Google the lyrics to positively identify “The Bottom Line,” a noir-ish, mid-tempo song from the late harmonica man Paul de Lay. Bone really gets across the character of the narrator, a lonely outsider. A tersely phrased guitar break yields to Jim David’s subtly dazzling organ solo. Both players understand that what isn’t played is as important as what is.

Alex Lyon (bass) and David Watson (drums) cut a strong groove behind the tough take on “Funky Mama” that centers the set. Those unfamiliar with the original version would be forgiven for scanning their Jimmie Vaughan records trying to identify this instrumental shuffle. Bone holds down the rhythm, playing greasy lines through a Leslie cabinet in tribute to Big John Patton’s organ. First David solos on piano; next Alter, Bone, and Motor City Josh take turns on guitar. None really references Grant Green’s playing on Lou Donaldson’s classic version; instead we hear three snappy solos, each with a lot of personality, ranging from loopy, carnival-esque ideas through snarling, Albert Collins-inflected lines, and ending with a few unison run-throughs of the head arrangement, all in just over three minutes.

Hats off to Alter for reaching into the “5” Royales’ catalog for “Thirty Second Lover.” He hews close to the original for the guitar introduction and fills, but this version is far from a clone: the tempo seems slower and the track here has a distinctly boozy, New Orleans party feeling. Jimmy and the backing vocalists acquit themselves enthusiastically and well, and the guitar break is crisp and impressive. For the final cut, Bone turns to the great American band Los Lobos for their beautiful, haunting “The Neighborhood.” Everything comes together here, from the rhythm section through the electric piano touches and organ solo (take note of David’s crafty Tito Puente/Santana quotation) to Jason Bone’s vocal, in which he sounds amazingly like David Hidalgo, to a guitar solo that is at once flashy and deeply soulful.

A song like this has far more in common with the blues than do any 500 blues rock clichés. Bone and Jimmy Alter ought to be commended for recognizing that kinship, and for being willing to stretch the boundaries in appropriate and fresh directions, while remaining emphatically loyal to blues tradition. They deserve credit too for their nerve. It would be nigh impossible to top Lowman Pauling’s wit and soul, or Curran’s shattering energy, but on this enjoyable EP Alter and Bone hold their own, with mature singing and playing that promise a huge upside.

 

TOM HYSLOP

 

The artist provided an advance copy of the EP. This review was commissioned by the Detroit Blues Society and published in the July 2014 edition of its BluesNotes newsletter. Download a PDF at the DBS Web site, detroitbluessociety.org

 

 

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Ron Spencer Band – Soul Reason

Soul Reason

Ron Spencer Band

Soul Reason

Real Gone, 2013

ronspencerband.com/

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ronspencerband2

 

The Central New York-based guitarist Ron Spencer has been a favorite of mine since I heard his first solo recording more than 15 years ago. While his band has undergone several changes in evolving to its current lineup (Spencer, singer Mark Gibson, bassist Jay Gould, and drummer Ross Moe), his track record of quiet excellence remains unbroken. His latest album, Soul Reason, is an outstanding set of blues and soul.

An excellent singer, Gibson has a hearty, sometimes bemused manner that conveys the low-key humor underlying much of the material. The group’s chief writer, he penned four songs: “Ain’t Got Nothin’,” a series of hard luck vignettes delivered over a rockabilly-inflected beat, with a guitar break straight out of the Carl Perkins stylebook; “Move Back To Missouri,” a rewiring of “Gonna Send You Back To Georgia” that reflects Hound Dog Taylor’s slide guitar boogie version more than the R&B takes by James Carr or Timmy Shaw, and spotlights a wonderful piano solo by guest Mark Nanni; and the beautifully sung swamp pop confection “You Ain’t Gone,” notable also for Spencer’s charmingly primitive, Guitar Slim-style lead guitar and the band’s rhythmic accents at the song’s crescendo. A Chicago shuffle with the sophistication of some of Jimmy Rogers’s ‘50s sides, “If That’s Love” features both fine piano from Nanni and Spencer’s artful guitar work, which combines the styles of Robert Lockwood and Bill Jennings.

Spencer and Gibson share credit for the bulk of the songs, including a pair of sweet soul tunes that are genre-correct but not at all derivative. “Nothin’ Like You” incorporates a stuttering rhythm, a melodic, crisply played guitar break, inspired tenor saxophone by Dan Eaton, and a superb Gibson vocal. The title track builds in intensity, adding organ to guitar over a slyly elastic rhythm before breaking out into sunny choruses.  Their straightforward blues numbers are tough to beat. A tale of a well-intentioned gin-drinking woman who seems to be fighting a losing battle, the infectious “Workin’ On Her Sins” opens the disc, swinging hard in the style of B.B. King’s Blues is King-era prime. Spencer’s lead guitar is right on target. “Puzzlement,” a hearty roadhouse blues, sounds like Jimmie Vaughan tackling Charlie Rich’s “Mohair Sam”–a hip concept, perfectly executed. “Here I Am Again” combines elements from across genres: greasy slide guitar; a lowdown groove reminiscent of Frankie Lee Sims; and traces of the Temptations’ soul classic “Shaky Ground.”

The rhythm section jumps “Lookin’ For A Woman,” a fast swing, just right. Spencer shows off a keen sense of humor, his way with a phrase, and a sophisticated harmonic approach. “Six Of One” is paced by throbbing electric bass, floor toms and maracas, and pushed by overdriven guitars. Credited to the entire band, it is an attention-getting exercise in dynamics, a moody, minor key stomp that works its way through a breakdown section and into a fast boogie. It’s great stuff, and emblematic of the Ron Spencer Band’s deep understanding of roots music. Their inspired playing and writing shows that classic forms, in the right hands, continue to hold both plenty of life and opportunities for originality. Anyone with an interest in real blues music ought deeply to enjoy Soul Reason.

TOM HYSLOP

The review copy of this CD was kindly provided by the artist.