I had not heard of The Insomniacs, a band from Portland, Oregon, until I received their new Delta Groove disc, At Least I’m Not With You. They have cultivated quite a following up there with their hard-hitting mix of Chicago blues and West Coast Swing and developed fans from the likes of Junior Watson’s who describes them accurately as “a tough sounding band.”
The band consists of Vyasa Dodson on vocals and guitar (a well as writer of the seven originals here); Alex Shakeri on piano and Hammond B-3; Dean Mueller on bass; and Dave Melyan on drums. For this collection of 13 tunes they are joined by Harmonica players Al Blake and Mitch Kashmar (for a track each); Joel Patterson on pedal steel guitar on one track and Jeff Turmes on saxophones on four tracks. The guest are additional musical seasoning for the quartet who certainly can fill out the tracks on their own without overplaying or bombast.
Dodson is a terrific guitarist in the vein of a Junior Watson, hard slashing attack with a sizzling tone and a very good singer who never forces his vocals, ably delivering a nice cover of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s Broke and Lonely, with some dazzling guitar while Patterson’s pedal steel adds to the atmosphere. Dodson also does a nice job of delivering Little Richard’s Directly From My Heart to You, with Turmes being a one-man horn section.
The instrumental Root Beer Float, allows both Dodson and Shakeri to show off and Shakeri’s rollicking piano is part of the foundation on the rocking original She Can Talk, as well as on the cover of the Five Royales Baby Don’t Do It. Delta Groove’s chief honcho, Randy Chortkoff, plays the harp on the strong rendition of Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues. Another number, Angry Surfer, is a hot dance number as Dodson asks his babe to lets try again with his guitar accompaniment owing as much to Duane Eddy and the Ventures with Shakeri pounding the ivories before Dodson takes a rocking solo mixing surf guitar with Freddie King. 20/20 is a relaxed shuffle with Shakeri handling the B-3 leading into Insomniacs Boogie, that ends this disc on a rocking groove.
As Watson observes in the liner notes, this is one tight band, that is beautifully recorded here on a solid group of performances.
The review copy was provided by publicists for Delta Groove. This review originally appeared in the September 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 320).