Thursday, November 29, 2012

Red Lotus Revue Tells Fourteen Stories

Fourteen Stories is the self-released recording by the Red Lotus Revue, a band rooted in fifties’ Chicago blues. The band took its name from its debut gig at the Red Lotus Society in downtown San Diego. Red Lotus Revue is comprised of harmonica player and vocalist Karl Cabbage; guitarist Jimmy Zollo, guitarist Pete Fanzini, and drummer Kurt Kalker. The recording consists of 7 originals by Cabbage and Zollo along with 7 covers which is the basis for the the album’s title. Cabbage is the only one I am familiar with having heard a recording by an earlier group of his, West of Memphis.

The set opens with an original Suzanne, with the band establishing its crisp sound. Cabbage’s gravelly vocals are suggestive of Omar Dykes while his harp playing is fluid with a fat tone. The band provides empathic support with nice mix of slide and straight guitar on this, and on other tracks coming across Louis and Dave Myers. The tempo quickens for a nice cover of Jimmy Reed’s shuffle, Ain’t Got You, and Kalker’s drumming does a nice job of swinging this along. Its is followed by a nice adaptation of Smokey Smothers’ Drinkin’ Muddy Waters, followed by the Pass This Way, that has a swampy feel as Cabbage and the guitarists play acoustically and Kalker displays a light touch.

For the cover Sonny Boy Williamson’s Key To Your Door, Cabbage does nice take of Williamson’s harp style while the guitarists shows appreciation for King Biscuit Boy, Joe Willie Wilkins. A couple of originals follow, with Homebody, standing out being with an insistent bass riff and a short, strong harp solo. Barkin’ is a nice shuffle in the manner of Nine Below Zero, with the band again playing in the manner of Sonny Boy Williamson. Then follows Fish Tail, a cover of one of Johnny Shines' reworkings of Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues. The guitarists play acoustically on this nice interpretation which is followed by a relaxed cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do

The spirited original River is anchored around the Rolling and Tumbling melody for which Cabbage tells his story about going to the river and washing his sins away. The closing Santee has Cabbage singing that if one is going to Santee, one best bring one's ID. This original is another clever adaptation of a classic blues recording, in this case Robert Johnson’s They’re Red Hot. It is heard in two takes, although the CD packaging does not indicate the second take. This caps a strong collection of Chicago styled blues. Certainly those who have enjoyed Omar and the Howlers will find this in a similar vein. I certainly look forward to more from the Red Lotus Revue.

I received my review copy from a publicist for this release.  Here is a video of them from their CD release party.

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