This, new to me, band grew from the ashes of a band called Contino…fronted by Paul Contino, they released Back Porch Dogma back in 2012. It was of similar roots and, indeed, three of the tracks on this new release featured on that one. Things do change however, and Rob Edwards, Al Ek along with Billy Truitt stayed together to bring the Vegas Strip Kings into being. They have dedicated themselves mainly to touring and have released one live album before this studio collection of seven originals and three covers came to fruition. Their blues based sound has flashes of zydeco and rockabilly (a mildly unsatisfactory way of describing a unique blend of proper country and proper R’n’B) but the overriding feeling for me is that, here we have a bunch of talented musicians who want to have fun…that comes across so much in this album that you can’t help but smile at the wry lyrics, the clever instrumentation and the joy that obviously went into the making of it.
If you doubt those words, then the first track, Rotgut Run, will convince…how can you not love a track that starts with a brilliant upright bass intro? A tip from me…adjust the bass settings on the player of choice to get the maximum out if the lovely upright bass throughout. The sax joins in with the drums and although this rockabilly flavoured track may remind some of the Stray Cats, I assure you it is all Vegas. Add in some Musselwhite style harp and vocals and it all comes together as a quality piece of, OK, rockabilly with some manic piano keyboard runs, even the Baby Please Don’t Go undercurrent doesn’t detract from the whole. It Ain’t , the succinctly titled second track, is R’n’B led by the sax and the rapid snare but it is the slide runs on, I think a lap steel, which makes this a countrified delight. Jesus On The Dash is what I believe is usually classified as Tex-Mex or Zydeco because of the accordion…regardless it is a sardonic look at love with the gentle swing of the backing. You can’t help but enjoy this song as, even though far from my normal choice, it has a lilt that gets to you. Lately is next, and is a saxy piece of slow paced blues and soul as the vocal and guitar conjure up the late 50s. The keys, piano and organ, are clever in the background and then the bonus of an organ and lap solo add greatly to the atmosphere. Screeching Halt, conversely, doesn’t put the brakes on, but it is a Latin flavoured tapper. The sax solo is the highlight in this (almost) clichéd tune. Next up is the first of two tracks by the undervalued Willie Love…Take It Easy. Love was probably best known as the pianist for the great Sonny Boy Williamson II and contributed way more than he is recognised for. Here the guys take a blues standard and, via a phased vocal and tasty guitar, make it their own. The piano solo is outstanding but, for me, if that guitar tone had been transferred into a solo it would have been even better than the, albeit still good, harp solo. Back To You is pure Zydeco and you can’t help but love it, especially the pedal steel, as it just pulls you in to its infectious rhythm. V8 Ford is from the pen of Love again, and it is head and shoulders the best track for me as they keep the slide, the feel and the true blues of the original, even if the accordion and sax solos should have been, in my mind anyway, that slide guitar simply because when it does get a chance to shine toward the end of the track, it is entrancing. Hold On is harp and organ playing off each other in a clever and entertaining way with some fine percussion going on in the background. Pawnbroker is a zydeco orchestra from five guys on the intro before it lilts its way through a well put together song and then the guitar solo surprises and delights…guess what? It’s way too short. Life Of Me is blues and R’n’B on lap steel…it actually works even when the odd Hawaiian phrase creeps in. I approached the next track with trepidation…what would these consummate musicians do to the Willie Dixon classic, Same Thing? Well, they kept the pace, the depth and the atmosphere over its nigh on seven minutes. The positives are the vocals that are pitched perfectly; the sax stays low and suitable; the electric piano fits in and the solo is very good; the harp works too obviously, but where was the guitar solo my ears were crying for? (Can ears cry?) Final track, Sharp As a Razor, is jump blues come country come R’n’B and is a fun fast paced song. The highlight is the picked guitar and the glorious upright bass solo…as I said, turn that bass setting up and revel in the sound of a lovely instrument played well.
This is not my normal selection but it is such an infectious sound that when it does appear on shuffle it will be welcomed. The skill and dexterity on display by all of the band is of a very high standard so, if you like your blues deep in the background and the rhythms more eclectic, then this is a blast.
SEVENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Rotgut Run
- It Ain’t
- Jesus on the Dash
- Screeching Halt
- Take It Easy
- Back To You
- V8 Ford
- Hold On
- Life of Me
- Same Thing
- Sharp as a Razor
Tracks 1 & 2 by R. Edwards, B. Truitt, A Ek, J. Lovgren & P. Contino
Tracks 3, 4, 10 & 13 by A. Ek, B. Truitt, R. Edwards & J. Truitt
Tracks 7, 9, & 11 by B. Truitt, A. EK, R. Edwards & J. Truitt
Track 5 by J. Carpenter
Tracks 6 & 8 by Willie Love
Track 12 by Willie Dixon
Al Ek – Guitar, vocals
Billy Truitt – Keys, accordion, vocals
Rob Edwards – Upright bass
Justin Truitt – Drums, percussion
Jimmy Carpenter – Saxophone, vocals
Produced by Billy Truitt.