I hate it when I get a new album by an artist I am unfamiliar with, only to learn that they are on their ‘n’th album…it often means my wallet takes a hit as I seek out their back catalogue. Well, here is another band that I should have heard of because a) they have a distinctive name – Altered Five Blues Band, b) this is their fifth album and c) they are produced by the one-man musical genius and powerhouse that is Tom Hambridge. So let’s put this right…AFBB are from Milwaaukee and formed in 2002 and have garnered much praise and numerous awards in their home territories. Starting off, as most do, they did mainly covers until they discovered they can write as well as play and that ability has matured and with Tom’s unerring knack of letting a band do what they do but still guiding and getting the best out of them all leads us to this latest release…Ten Thousand Watts. That’s a powerful title and is actually well matched to the dozen original tracks on offer. It is a heady mix of blues styles and, although you’ll hear hints of BB, Hooker and Prof Longhair for example as we travel from Chicago to the New Orleans and all blues points in between, it all is very much their own sound…and when that sound is genuine precision blues shot through with humour, what’s not to love?
Opening with Right On, Right On we get a Hooker-ish boogie with guest harp man Steve Cohen playing subtle in-fills to expand the AFBB’s already blues weighty sound. Jeff T immediately demonstrates his ‘old school’ vocal abilities over a typical blues riff with organ and a drum pattern that is seemingly out of time but works well and when the guitar solo arrives it gives a modern blues edge to it. Too Mad to Make Up is riff driven blues with piano barrelling away to bring out the modern/old feel these guys are so good at. The guitar solo is inspired as it also goes old school in sound but the combinations of picking and chord work is imaginative and worthy.
Ten Thousand Watts does not refer to the amp stack the band use; it is a little more salacious as JT’s powers of seduction and the results are spotlighted. This is from the Cream mould with added keys and it works a treat with distinct Baker/Bruce/Clapton inflections on all three instruments…so, imagine Cream, fronted by Jimmy Helms with Jon Lord guesting and we are nearly there. A firm favourite already. Mischief Man uses almost a slow jump style to keep the toes tapping in another example of taking a standard blues approach and adding new finesses. The guitar solo is again well thought out and executed and uses bends runs and chords in a clever way without relying on the top two strings and frets.
Great Minds Drink Alike, apart from a great title, is a wonderful little shuffle with guitar and keys working in harmony while JT espouses the delights of a night with a lovely lady. The organ solo is truly excellent and, with the guitar solo, really makes this song special.
Don’t Rock My Blues slows down a bit despite the title, with a sentimental story of the love of inspirational music. Starting with neat slide work it leaves space for the vocals and the piano and guitar punctuate when it’s right. The solo isn’t slide as I was hoping but it is still beautifully done. Sweet Marie takes us to New Orleans for a drum, bass, guitar led intro and building to the piano fills and solo that generated my Professor Longhair comparison as Tevich channels all that was good about the Prof’s playing. Dollars & Demons is a slow organ washed blues with suitable vocals and guitar infills and a solo that has some fascinating, oblique phrases that make it stand out.
I Hate to Leave You (With a 6-pack in the Fridge) is another good title and brings with it a great Albert King-ish guitar and, even if the rhyme for fridge is “…more trouble than a one-way bridge” is a little tenuous this is a great blues song all of the way and the bass work is brilliant if you listen out for it. Let Me Do the Wrong Thing may be tongue in cheek but, in parts, it still resonates…just don’t tell anyone! The slightly swampy feel is just right as the guitars do a cracking job throughout and the electric piano adds texture. Half of Nothing owes something to Baby Please Don’t Go but in a good way. The guitar and organ over some snappy snare work pull this together neatly and the organ solo is immense. Let Me Be Gone wraps it up with harp backed blues-rock that is immediate and we also get a proper solo from Cohen that shows why he was invited.
So, will my wallet be suffering as I buy up their back catalogue? Easy answer, yes…this is the kind of blues you can never tire of as AFBB put an original and modern edge into the blues of yore. There are plenty of guitar excursions to keep that part of my mind happy too. So although there is no earth shattering ‘newness’ this is a band that knows the blues and how to entertain us with variations aplenty. Thoroughly enjoyable and so thank you AFBB, my wallet is about to feel a bit lighter.
Eight Doodle Paws out of Ten
1. Right On, Right On
2. Too Mad to Make Up
3. Ten Thousand Watts
4. Mischief Man
5. Great Minds Drink Alike
6. Don’t Rock My Blues
7. Sweet Marie
8. Dollars & Demons
9. I Hate to Leave You (With a 6-pack in the Fridge)
10. Let Me Do the Wrong Thing
11. Half of Nothing
12. Let Me Be Gone
Jeff Taylor: vocals
Jeff Schroedi: guitars
Mark Solveson: bass
Ray Teviich: keyboards
Alan Arber: drums
Steve Cohen: harmonica
Produced by Tom Hambridge at Ocean Way Studios, Nashville.
(“Ooops, didn’t click stop in time’ time and, as my iTunes ran on, I was treated to a reminder of just how good Alvin Lee is…I enjoyed his electric blues on one of his lesser known songs that is a bit The Firm flavoured…A Little Bit Of Love.)