Reverend Raven and His Altar Boys hold a candle to the blues

Originally from Chicago, the Reverend Raven has been playing the blues since he saw Freddy King in concert back in 1971. It wasn’t an immediate move to gigging, however; as he spent fifteen years in the Navy, achieving the rank of ‘Chief’, so don’t be surprised to see him referred to as Chief Reverend. Shortly after leaving the Navy his love for the blues found a home in Milwaukee, where he began a long collaboration with famed harmonica player Madison Slim, who played with Jimmy Rogers. Hailing from Chicago has, undoubtedly, influenced The Rev. but his travels have brought other styles into the mix to provide a wealth of blues variations across the 16 tracks. You will hear blues from Chicago and Texas with some swamp, swing, shuffles and gospel to broaden the sound. Add into this a wealth of talent and experience that make up the wonderfully named band, The Chain Smoking Altar Boys, and the eclecticism of the release makes sense.

This new album, My Life, Twentieth Anniversary, is a compilation from his previous albums but each track has been re-recorded and features a host of musicians from the Altar Boys previous and current line-ups.

Handyman gets the anniversary party going with The Rev. showing his skill on guitar and if you haven’t heard him before, a remarkable baritone voice with a warmth and depth that was tailor-made for the blues. The song is smooth rhythms all of the way with the harmonica expressing in music the story of how handy a handyman can be! The silky guitar tones take you back to the electric blues of the early 60s. Bee Hive Baby is blues done different… the spoken introduction is suggestive in the way blues has always used humour and innuendo. With its infectious, almost rumba drumming patterns, then an eccentric guitar solo combine to make this a great listen. Creature Of Habit is a faster, swing style blues with more excellent harmonica and subtle guitar. Keys provide a quiet, effective background to another quality track. Bad Little Girls is a harmonica-laden, standard blues that is lifted by the guitar/harp interplay. I Want To Love You has a distinct Texas roadhouse blues flavour with the rolling rhythm and, once more, the guitar/harp complimenting each other, with some delightful slide at the dénouement. Once The Women Start Talking is, I think, a tongue in cheek and humourous view on the fairer gender. Guitar and harmonica yet again work faultlessly together over a slowed down Berry style structure. The piano gives variation to the overall sound, albeit a little low in the mix. My Life, unsurprisingly from the title, is an autobiographical Chicago Blues offering with a guitar tone that screams ‘Windy City’. This time the piano gets to play centre stage and the solo is brilliant. Here Comes My Baby follows a BB pattern but the outstanding guitar solo is the best yet. Praying For A Princess starts with an Old Grey Whistle Test harp and then kicks up a frantic pace as we are treated to some old-fashioned swing blues. Big Bee is another apiary-based blues, and yes, it does buzz with a swamp feel with The Rev’s baritone phased to great effect. Looking For Love brings the saxophone into play for the first time in swinging blues form. Slow Burn starts off like the Shadows have got the blues, and recruited a sax and keyboard player. A standard blues pattern lifted by The Rev. and his guitar. Someday When I’m Dead And Gone is back in swing mode and in a classic form that doesn’t stand out until the guitar solo… the tone is so evocative of the era that it takes you right there. I Can Do You Right is a more stripped back affair as it starts off in yet another classic pattern. The guitar is the saviour of a standard standard. She’s Moving On has half spoken/half sung lyrics, which work well on this Chicago based blues with a slow swing behind it. Final track, I’m Your Honeyboy isn’t another bee reference this time; rather, I think, it is a tribute to the Delta Bluesman, Honeyboy Edwards. It is a brisk, juke/swing style blues that is ripe with smooth guitar, harmonica and barrelling piano, and is a great way to round off the album.

This is a quality blues album without any major surprises, but it is brim full of musicians on top of their game and will keep you happily ‘bluesed up’ for all of its 65 minute running time. There is sufficient variation in the songs to keep your interest, especially if you’re a fan of guitar/harp based blues. Totally enjoyable from beginning to end.

Should you want to learn more about the Rev. beware…Google may point to a Reverend Raven who claims she is, and I quote, ”…a light architect, a psychic muse, and life transition mentor”.  I think this Rev. is closer to Edgar Allan Poe’s image of the mystical bird than that! I will leave the last words to Poe in his 1845 poem, The Raven:

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

EIGHTpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Tracklisting:

  1. Handyman
  2. Bee Hive baby
  3. Creature of Habit
  4. Bad Little Girls
  5. I Want To Love You
  6. Once the Women Start Talking
  7. My Life
  8. Here Comes My Baby
  9. Praying for a Princess
  10. Big Bee
  11. Lookin’ For Love
  12. Slow Burn
  13. Someday When I’m Dead and Gone
  14. I Can Do You Right
  15. She’s Movin’ On
  16. I’m Your Honey Boy

All tracks written by Rev. Raven

Musicians:
Reverend Raven: Guitar/Vocals
Westside Andy Linderman: harmonica
Craig Panosh: Drums
P.T. Pedersen: Bass
Benny Rickun: harmonica
Steve Vonderharr: harmonica
Big Al Groth: saxophone
Madison Slim: harmonica

Additional musicians:
Jimmy Voegeli, Mickey Larson, Danny Moore, Ron Kovach, Andre Maritato, Brad Bill, Jeff Roberts, Spencer Panosh and Victor Span.

Recorded at Making Sausage Studios in Milwaukee and engineered by Steve Hamilton.

Reverend Raven and His Altar Boys hold a candle to the blues

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