Its been over 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 become one of the best-loved blues and old school soul bands around. Featuring several truly excellent 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 some strong original material along with some covers of some gems by Roy C.
The first time I heard them live, they turned many heads, including mine, when Jerome MacKall launched into the group’s rendition of Ray Charles’ A Fool For You (filtered through Otis Redding). William Bell, the legendary soul artist, has compiled 15 tracks from the three discs on his Wilbe label, Hot Ticket, which hopefully will make their music easier to find. What is impressive is the quality of their 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 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 reach the horny side of 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 gets to the vocal mike on the popular medley of Roy C songs Morning Train/ Peeping Thru the Window (Presented in both radio and unedited mixes) as well as 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.
When one sees Hardway Connection perform, one hears them performing their originals that are here along with covers of Dorothy Moore, Al Green, Etta James and others. Hopefully this disc will be available in better stores. You can get it at the group’s performances of course along with amazon, Barnes & Noble, wax.museum.com and other web sites.
This review appeared originally in the October 2005 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. It was also published in the June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 283). I have made some edits to reflect that this review is 5 years old and omitted material in the original review that was relevant to the Washington DC area readers and to reflect current availability. The Hardway Connection provided me with a review copy.