Thursday, November 04, 2010

DownChild Still Playing the Blues With a Feeling After Four Decades

Downchild is a Canadian institution that has been laying down the blues for forty years and for their fortieth year they have a new release “I Need a Hat” (Linus). Donnie Walsh with his brother Richard formed Downchild back in 1969 and after the brothers had a parting of the ways, Donnie remained as the leader and focus of the band.

Over the year’s Downchild has had a variety of vocalists fronting the group, and that role is presently held by Chuck Jackson. The rest of Downchild is Pat Carey on saxophones,Michael Fontara on keyboards, Gary Kendall on bass and Mike Fitzpatrick on drums and this edition of the band has been together for a decade and a half which is evidenced by the crisp, swinging and rocking grooves the band puts together. They are augmented by the likes of Colin James and Colin Linden as well as famed trumpeter Wayne Jackson. Dan Ackroyd joins the party for one track on harmonica as Downchild was an inspiration for Ackroyd’s act with the late John Belushi, The Blues Brothers.

This lively disc is comprised of Walsh’s originals which are full of humor as well as some dark-sided twists on the breakdown in relationships that mark most blues songs. The title song is a delightful ditty about figuring out that to be a famous blues man one needs a hat and too bad he should have seen it sooner, as he would be a rich and famous man. Jackson delivers it with the appropriate tone while Walsh rips off a strong solo. Its followed by a strong slow blues, “Somebody Lied,” as Jackson sings about how his life is falling apart with Wayne Jackson taking a terrific trumpet solo before Colin James rips off an energetic solo.

You Don’t Love Me” features Linden’s guitar and Ackroyd’s harp, on a nice Jimmy Reed inspired shuffle that benefits from the band’s relaxed groove. In contrast, “Rendezvous”, has Walsh with driving slide and a harder groove hints at some classic Elmore James. “Down to the Delta,” is a bouncy number with Jackson on harp as he sings about going down from Mississauga in the land of snow to the Delta with some swinging, jazzy guitar. The last of Jackson’s vocals, “What Was I Thinking,” has him wondering why he couldn’t see “there was no light at the end of the tunnel.” Pianist Fontara is excellent here as throughout while Walsh takes a harp solo. Walsh follows with two vocals, one of which “These Thoughts Keep Me Marching,” with a topical tinge, is built on an old country blues groove, and has more trumpet from Wayne Jackson. His other vocal, “Some More of That,” is a nicely delivered bit of homespun philosophy. If not having the range of Chuck Jackson as a singer, Walsh certainly puts plenty of feeling in his very likable singing.

The disc closes with the instrumental “El Stew,” which is an instrumental reworking of the title track, sporting a funky groove and some very nice organ. Walsh’ guitar solo that shows more concern with developing ideas than simply displaying technique, although Walsh has plenty of technique. It is a fitting end to this first-rate disc of Walsh and his fellow blues road warriors that should be of interest in blues enthusiasts everywhere.

For purposes of FTC regulations, the CD was provided by a publicity firm for this release.

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