Thursday, August 02, 2018

Rockwell Avenue Blues Band Heads Back to Chicago

Rockwell Avenue Blues Band
Back to Chicago
Delmark Records

As keyboardist and vocalist Ken Saydak observes that the title of this album is fitting  for veterans of the Windy City's blues scene who came together for this project. The title of the band is also a nod to Delmark Records North Rockwell address.

Saydak was joined by guitarist and vocalist Steve Freund, harmonica player and vocalist Tad Robinson, bassist Harlan Terson and drummer Marty Binder. Collectively they have played with and recorded with Chicago legends like Big Walter Horton, Sunnyland Slim, Otis Rush, Lonnie Brooks, Albert Collins, Junior Wells, Koko Taylor, and Buddy Guy. Saydak, Freund and Robinson also have established well regarded solo careers with heard on five vocals. Along with bassist Terson, they contribute to the originals here, with one song a collaboration between Mary-Ann Brandon, Fred James and Saydak. There is one Elmore James cover.

One should be not surprised by the strong music heard here. This is one terrific band with the three frontmen all having plenty of solo space. Robinson is particularly impressive with his harmonica playing here such as his sax-like backing behind Saydak's vocal on "That Face," a performance that featured Saydak's strong singing that has tonal qualities (but not the country drawl) reminiscent of Elvin Bishop. At the same time, Robinson plays more in a Junior Parker vein on the soulful "Free To Love Again," Freund channels Robert Nighthawk on his terrific slow blues "Lonesome Flight." In addition to his strong singing and guitar, the band is superb with Saydak pounding the ivories. One cannot praise Terson and Binder enough as they anchor this and the entire recording.

Saydak's "Chariot Gate" evokes early James Cotton, while Freund's rendition of "Stranger Blues" has a fresh arrangement, and is not a copy of Elmore James' original recording. Binder superb on this. It is  followed by a rootsy rocker by Saydak, "For a Reason." Other notable tracks include Robinson's "Hey Big Bill," with a spirited guitar solo and Robinson's fine harp as he calls on Big Bill to help lift him up from his blues. Terson, Saydak and Robinson collaborated on the title track, a nice West Side Chicago styled blues that like the entire album is wonderfully played displaying marvelous interplay between the band members.

The Rockwell Avenue Blues Band may have been assembled for this recording, but they come off as one terrific band. With solid vocals, strong solos, and choice material, "Back to Chicago," is a most welcome musical delight for Chicago blues lovers.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review appeared originally in the May-June 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 378), but I have made some stylistic and clarifying changes to the published review.

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