Altered Five Blues Band are back with a new album and, as with the last one (Ten Thousand Watts, reviewed here on Bluesdoodles), they are produced by the one-man musical genius and powerhouse that is Tom Hambridge. In case you’ve missed them, AFBB are from Milwaukee 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 again benefit from Tom’s unerring knack of letting a band do what they do but still guiding and getting the best out of them. By the way, these guys are also holding down ‘day jobs’ as well as recording and (at last) gigging…impressive! The powerfully titled, Holler If You Hear Me brings thirteen original tracks with 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?
The opening and title track, Holler If You Hear Me, sets the stall out admirable with a blues/rock/soul melange that is immediately immediate…great riff, piano and expressive vocals are backed by the harp skills of Jason Ricci. The structure and clarity of production also mean we can hear every snare beat and bass pluck and it makes this song even stronger because of it…as does the neatly picked guitar solo. Guilty Of A Good Time opens with great guitar as Jeff Taylor sells the story of harmless party lovers; the riff, when it cuts in is very Robert Johnson on Stones In My Passway, but it is still great song: the guitar solo is outstanding too as it plays with the melody.
If You Go Away (She Might Come Back) is a frantic paced sort of agony aunt advice lyric that has a restrained and remarkably effective harp solo. Holding On With One Hand is a slower blues-drenched story of love lost; structured as eight, not twelve, bars it has rolling piano backing the picked guitar that has a Freddie King sort of magic…the bass is worthy of note too as Solveson plays just a few ‘high’ notes with feeling as Schroedl traverses the neck brilliantly.
Blues-rock next on Full Moon, Half Crazy; great riff, bass and Hammond combine with the vocals to bring bite to an excellent track that needs listening to at least six times to hear the skills on display from each band member and then as such an accomplished unit. Where’s My Money harks back to the jazz/blues era as swing, harp and vocals top another great band performance.
All Suit, No Soul is funky blues behind the humorous lyrical pin-stripe patterns. Hammond and guitar add flourishes behind the verses and then the picked guitar solo is very cleverly constructed around the melodies. I Got All I Needs another quality slice of blues-rock with simple and effective bass and drum providing the spine for some lovely guitar, Rhodes and Hammond to wrap around the vocals. The guitar solo is the highlight with some delicious bends and runs and the Rhodes (or mellotron) matches it for originally too before a sort of duet sets the denouement up perfectly. Clear Conscience, Bad Memory keeps the blues-rock swagger as the whole band build the new around the old and familiar; more great soloing from guitar and Hammond to lift it even higher…I will say for a bad memory, Jeff seems to recall a lot of names! In The Name Of No Good is a rocky blues with a genius bass line as, as we now expect, some high-quality vocals, guitar and keys; as for the lyrics…if only!
Leave Before I Let You Down uses a few well-worn blues tropes but, as the band has the ability to weave new life around them, it is enjoyable and brand new. This could have fitted nicely on the Green Bullfrog album. Fifteen Minutes Of Blame has funk splashed across the blues page in a very good way…yet more delightful guitar and keys on top of their trademark tongue in cheek lyrics. Big Shout Out names just about everybody that matters in the world of blues as the band wrap the album up with neat bass and harp layered over the established rhythm.
A hugely enjoyable, skilful and varied album of blues and blues-rock served with crystal clear production to add still further to the listening experience. If these can do this while holding down ‘proper’ jobs, think what could happen…
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album of skilled and varied blues where the quality never falters.
1. Holler If You Hear Me
2. Guilty Of A Good Time
3. If You Go Away (She Might Come Back)
4. Holding On With One Hand
5. Full Moon, Half Crazy
6. Where’s My Money
7. All Suit, No Soul
8. I Got All I Need
9. Clear Conscience, Bad Memory
10. In The Name Of No Good
11. Leave Before I Let You Down
12. Fifteen Minutes Of Blame
13. Big Shout Out
Jeff Taylor: vocals
Jeff Schroedl: guitar
Raymond Tevich: keyboards
Mark Solveson: bass
Alan Arber: drums
Jason Ricci: harmonica (tracks 1,3,4,6,13)
Produced by Tom Hambridge in Nashville
(iTunes went on to the AFBB’s last album (Ten Thousand Watts) before gracing the speakers with the gorgeous guitar tones of Alvin Lee from his 1992 Zoom album; although the first track, A Little Bit Of Love could have been Bad Co at their peak it still shows his blues credentials.)