Monday, October 26, 2015

The Knickerbocker All Stars Open Mic At The Knick

Open Mic At The Knick” by The Knickerbocker All Stars on JP Cadillac Records is a celebration of the music scene in Westerly, Rhode Island in the late 1960s when such musicians as Greg Piccolo, Johnny Nicholas, Fran Christina and others held forth in various groups leading to the emergence of Roomful of Blues. With a core of musicians from guitarist Ricky King Russell and the Cadillac Horns, this recording brings together some terrific renditions of classic fifties and sixties blues, R&B and jump blues tunes. Fran Christina and his brother Bobby (one of the producers) hold forth the drum chair, while Al Copley and Dave Maxwell share the piano chair with a first rate horn section that includes Rick Lataille. The 13 vocals are shared between eight vocalists that include Johnny Nicholas, Sugar Ray Norcia, Curtis Salgado, and J. P. Sheerar (another of the producers).

The songs are classics associated with B.B. King “You Upset Me Baby” (ably reworked by Norcia); Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” (one of two terrific vocals from Malford Milligan the other being on the Butterfield Blues Band’s “Love Machine”); Billy Eckstine - Earl Hines’ “Jelly Jelly” and Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby” (Sung by John Nicholas who also sings Guitar Slim-Freddie King’s “Along About Midnight”); Buddy Guy’s “Mother-In-Law Blues” and B.B. King’s rendition of “Five Long Years” (sung by Willy Laws); Bland’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You (sung by Salgado); Eddie Vinson’s “Somebody’s Got To Go” (sung by Sheerar) and Freddy King’s “I’m Tore Down (sung by Brian Templeton).

This is a marvelously played album of covers of classic blues. The band is excellent and the arrangements well done, even adding extra horns to several selections which had smaller groups on the original performances such as “I’m Tore Down” and “Going Down.” Toss in some strong vocals (and the only disappointing one is Nicholas on “Along About Midnight” and that is because my reference point is Guitar Slim and Roy Brown) and one has a terrific listening experience. Highpoint's include Milligan channelling Bobby Bland, Nicholas singing the Eckstine big band chestnut, Willie Law’s rendition of a lesser known Buddy Guy recording and Sheerar’s evocation of Cleanhead Vinson, but everything is a high level. With so many of the original performers no longer with us, this is a tribute not only to those days of the late 1960s but the music that inspired them.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358).  The Knickerbocker All Stars have a new platter "Go Back Home To The Blues" that I hope to post a review of shortly. Here is a clip of them performing this year.

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