Its been a decade since an unheralded walk-on group competed and won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, edging out a group fronted by Susan Tedeschi. Previously unknown to many blues lovers in the Washington area, The Hardway Connection have since established themselves as among the best-loved blues and old school soul bands in the Mid-Atlantic. Featuring several truly superb singers and a tight band with two keyboards, guitar, bass and drums, they have produced soulful and funky music and in the course of their three self-produced cds, have come up with strong original material along with some covers of some gems by Roy C. William Bell, the legendary soul artist, has compiled 15 tracks from the three discs on his Wilbe label,
What is impressive is the quality of the originals (which shouldn’t be surprising since guitarist-vocalist Robert Owens is Don Covay’s nephew) as well as the remarkable vocals of Jerome MacKall (whose vocals evoke Otis Redding crossed with Al Green) backed by the group’s strong playing. Originals range from the get up on the dance floor groove of "Come On and Dance;" the southern soul of "What She Doesn’t Know" about a man in an affair; "Horn-ee Side," perhaps an unfortunate title for a lyric in which MacKall sings about wanting to turn on his women’s mind; one of the group’s finest soul ballads, "It Must Be Love"; and "Somebody," a deep soul lyric that evokes the Bee Gees To Love Somebody. Guitarist Robert Owens takes to the vocal mike on the medley of Roy C songs that is a staple of their live shows, "Morning Train"/ "Peeping Thru the Window" (presented in both radio and unedited mixes) and the follow-up, "One in the Morning," in which Robert attempts to remedy what his woman viewed as the deficiency in his equipment being too short.
And when one sees The Hardway Connection perform, one will mainly hear them performing originals along with selected covers from Dorothy Moore, Etta James and others. Hopefully this disc will be available in better stores. You can get it at the group’s performances and the Wilbe website, www.williambell.com.