Monday, July 23, 2018

Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors

Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors
EllerSoul Records

Talking about the Blues Warriors, Mark Wenner observes, “This band is actually a blues band,” says Wenner, addressing comparisons to the ‘Hawks. “The Nighthawks are a blues and roots-rock band. This band, with upright bass, is more authentic, old school and swinging. It’s closer to the Cash Box Kings than J. Geils; a whole different animal.” Having seen some of the Blues Warriors early performances at JV's, the Falls Church, Virginia local roadhouse, I am pleased to see this eponymously titled recording document the band. Joining Wenner on harmonica and vocals are fellow Nighthawks mate Mark Stutso (drums, vocals), Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner (guitar, vocals), Zach Sweeney (guitar) and Steve Wolf (upright bass). Turner is a popular performer on the DC blues and music scene (He wonder the DC Blues Society's Battle of Bands several years ago), while Wolf has played with so many blues and roots performers including Danny Gatton, Tom Principato and most recently with Memphis Gold, and like Wenner, I remember Zach Sweeney when he was too young to play blues jams without his parents. He recently returned to the area after some serious road experience with Wayne Hancock.

Musically there will be little to surprise the listener with the 12 performances, only one of which is an original. These are solid performances starting off with Turner's revival of Muddy Waters' "Diamonds at Your Feet." This is one of several fine vocals by Turner which also include a lesser known Big Joe Turner recording "Rock a While"; Muddy Waters' "Just to Be with You" and Elmore James' "Dust My Broom." Wenner's harp and the piano-less quintet provide a different feel to these especially on the Joe Turner and Elmore James numbers (with Wenner's harmonica dominating the backing on the latter number)..

Wenner is strong in reviving Elvis' "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear," as a blues as well as his rendition of "Checkin' On My Baby" which owes more to Junior Wells than Sonny Boy Williamson. Among Wenner's other vocals is a straight reading of Slim Harpo's "King Bee," a stomping swamp blues rendition of the Fats Domino "Hello Josephine," and an instrumental Jimmy Reed tribute, "Just For Jimmy." Mark Stutso, who is highly underrated as a singer does a superb take on B.B. King's "It's My Own Fault." There is a fine take of "The Hucklebuck" that showcases Sweeney's impressive, jazz-laced single note runs along with a fine Steve Wolf bass solo. Sweeney also impresses on his solo on "Rock A While."

While several of these performances are modeled after the source recordings, Wenner's harp and the lack of piano provide a fresh take on several numbers including "Teddy Bear," "Rock A While," and "Dust My Broom." As previously stated, these are solid performances, played with much conviction and result in a very entertaining recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review has appeared in the July-August 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 379). Here they are seen performing "The Hucklebuck," at their regular performance at JV's in Falls Church, Virginia.

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