When one thinks of blues, one does not think of the Baltic Republic of Latvia, yet Duke Robilliard came across the Latvian Blues Band and thought enough of them to produce a CD by them. They have been together performing largely in Latvia, but also throughout Europe and visits to Canada and the United States. They were even part of the Blues Foundation's 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. The band consists of Janis Bukovskis on vocals and guitar; Rolands Saulietis on drums; Reinis Ozolins on bass; and Richards Berzins on piano and organ with Janis Kalnins adding guitar on most of the selections. Several tracks have horns and Duke adds solos to a couple of the selections. The Chicago-based Blue Skunk has issued Unreal, the Latvian Blues Band’s first album.
One thing that is evident quickly is how well they have absorbed the blues musical language and their playing sounds as natural as some of the best US Bands. Bukovskis may display a very slight accent in his vocals, but his phrasing flows naturally. There are some adaptations of some classic blues and R&B but most of this are their originals and these are strong, idiomatic performances. There are so many delights here starting with the opening rendition of Evil. There interpretation is a strutting, horn based rendition that sounds like more like Stax than Howlin’ Wolf’s original recording or versions based on that. A great vocal with the rhythm section laying down a strong groove and Robillard taking a crisp solo. Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand, sports a nice pleading vocal from Bukovskis as well as dobro playing from him on a nice interpretation of a Professor Longhair recording.
An original like Confused is a terrific shuffle with biting guitar from Bukovskis, while on Feel Like Cryin’, they take the tempo and volume down which lends a jazzier flavor to a sober lyric about “a part of me is dying.” They add a reggae groove to Wake Up, on which Kalnins takes the guitar solo. Let the Door Hit You, which I believe was by the late King Biscuit Boy, is a delightful rocking performance with Kalnins soloing again. There is a folky quality on 5 Minutes Too Late, a trio performance with Bukovskis on bass as well as vocal, Kalnins on guitar (and taking a really nice solo) and Saulietis on drums. Further indication of the variety on this recording is the excellent rendition of Rosco Gordon’s No More Doggin’, with nice interplay between Bukovskis slide guitar and Kalnins guitar and a rhythmic flavor suggestive of the music of the North Mississippi Hill Country.
There is a wonderful, natural sounding pace about these performances. When playing an uptempo number, the Latvian Blues Band never sound frenzied or rushed and similarly their is an appealing relaxed feel to their slower numbers. Having had no idea what to expect from them, this writer was floored by the quality of the music here. This was an unexpected delight and I suspect others will be similarly impressed.
My review copy was provided by the recording company.