When the inspiration for a band name is ‘illicit’ alcohol and brings together like-minded people to form a group dedicated to the aforementioned libation, then we can assume a party will ensue…well, Moonshine Society certainly distil the blues, soul and true R’n’B into a heady cocktail of energetic tunes to liven up any party. That is the last of the tortuous drink puns…promise!
In case you haven’t come across this band before, this second release, Sweet Thing, will provide an excellent introduction to the musicians who came together at the Berklee College of music in 2009 and began to forge a successful career across the US; they have shared the stage with many blues greats and now prove that they can hold their own as they deliver ten (well, eleven really) mix of originals and covers.
Opening with a slow intro, the title track soon shifts gears and becomes a dirty blues (in a nice way) as Black Betty (Also known as Jenny Langer) shows her powerful and emotive voice…the riff is so familiar but with Joe’s guitar and guest Jason Ricci’s harp it has a bite to keep it fresh. Shake moves to surf-style guitar attack and transports you back to the 60s with the Hank-ish sounds and into the dance halls of yore. The sax solo is good, but the star for guitar nut in me is how the melodies are developed and turned into an excellent (short) guitar solo. Next, a song made famous by Ruth Brown…Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean. Here the band has transformed it into a Beale Street anthem full of barrelling piano and horny horns. It retains the message and the subtle way BB translates it is stunning: the piano and guitar wrap clever patterns around it all and make it recognisable but so different. A coned trumpet adds a bit of texture and the sax has a turn too although I was wanting the piano to bring those patterns into a full-blown solo…probably just me! Come On Home is soulful blues in ballad form with neat guitar and keys behind the horns as BB letting all the emotions wash through every verse. The guitar solo is just moving from great to superb when the sax spoils it for me…still a great song for all ballad lovers.
Southern Road is my current favourite as we get Ricci’s harp again trading phrases with Joe’s superb guitar in a thoughtful and rocking tribute to Johnny Winter. (A minor gripe, as this is a review copy, I am guessing the cowbell that is so high in the mix won’t be as incursive on the CD and the guitar will be higher.) The next song sounds like a recipe for contentment…if it had included wine and ciggies it would have been bliss! Biscuits, Bacon and the Blues starts off in church with the organ and vocals recalling the best of gospel before it ramps up into a barrelling slice of blues. Piano, organ and guitar pull together a great piece of backing as the bass and drums are in perfect sync: the guitar solo ensures that each note counts and, that lack of ‘flash’ makes it all the more powerful.
The next track is a twofer as they say these days as Bill Withers’ Use Me segues seamlessly into the Dr John classic, Gilded Splinters. It adds a lot of oomph to Use Me especially the rock guitar solo that could have lasted for the whole seven minutes for me. Then the bass gets a solo too and Chris or Tod takes full advantage with a clever journey around the fretboard as Rodney shows how to make a very complicated pattern fit and grow with the music. The whole thing works and the funk of Splinters ensures a fitting adaptation to that great song. BB takes centre stage with a brave and very capable version of Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind…suffice it to say, due deference and interpretation combine to make this a worthwhile version and a damn sight better than a lot of other efforts. The band bring some jazz to the blues on Deal The Devil Made and, at first, it came across as OK track but when the ‘pick-upped’ acoustic cuts in it becomes a whole new song that will stay with you. The final track is billed as a bonus track, The One Who Got Away, features BB with a different backing band: this track originally appeared on a benefit album for musicians dealing with cancer and is a strong and electric blues ballad…a worthy cause and a worthy inclusion here.
This is a very strong album with a varied blend of blues with soul inflexions…a great vocalist backed by some consummate musicians and worthwhile addition to the collection.
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Sweet Thing
- Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean
- Come On Home
- Southern Road
- Biscuits, Bacon, And The Blues
- Use Me on Gilded Splinters
- I’d Rather Go Blind
- Deal The Devil Made
- The One Who Got Away
Black Betty: vocals
Joe Poppen: guitars
Rodney Dunton: drums
Tod Ellsworth: bass
Christopher Brown: bass
Wes Lanich and Benjie Porecki: keyboards
Jason Ricci: harmonica on Sweet Thing and Southern Road
Ron Holloway: tenor sax
Vince McCool: trumpet
Ken Wenzel: baritone sax
(iTunes gave me the unadulterated pleasure of the Moody Marsden Band before I found the right track: their superb version of Wee Wee Baby from the Time Is Right For Live Album…those two know how to pay the blues!)