Vintage blues with additional hues of gospel and jazz; come aboard this Massachusetts train for album number 11 from Misty Blues.
Release Date: 28th January 2022
Label: Lunaria Records
Format: CD / Digital (Bandcamp)
Sometimes you just don’t want nothin’ fancy, and this, well this ain’t nothin’ fancy. By now an institution in their Williamstown, Massachusetts home, this is the latest from Gina Coleman and her evolving band, playing their gospel hued electric blues for over two decades now. With a stack of styles and influences ranging from blues guitar, to sophisticated horn licks and even zydeco, there is, literally, something here for every shade of the blues. All credit to Lunaria Records, a steady eye on the blue horizon for some time, for keeping this band on their roster and to our attention. At the front, in every way, stands and sings Coleman , whose earthy holler is perfect for the songs she writes, authenticity dripping from every pore. Initially the singer in a folk-rock band, it was only when she took the lead in a gospel production in her Williamstown hometown theatre festival that her true vocation became apparent, her subsequent aim being to celebrate and aspirate those essential and integral women singers of the early to mid 20th century, and to leave as indelible mark on the blues as did they.
Almost unaccompanied, backed only be her own resonator guitar, it is Coleman’s voice that open’s proceedings, a hoarse incantation that lays down a gauntlet of what is to come. Piano and rhythm section strike up behind her, sounds unmistakably of the chapel. A haunting solo, from taxman Aaron Dean, steers the song from the vestry to the streets, the whole sashaying all the way into a warming gospel anthem. A safe and reliable start, which allows the freight train boogie of Freight Car to chug in, horns parking for emphasis. OK, perhaps a little too much gargle in the vocal for me, and maybe even a tad too generic, or so you might think, with a sudden syncopated breakdown of the horns breaking that thought, ushering in a glorious and drawn out slide work-out, courtesy guest player, Justin Johnson. Suddenly we are in different territory, with echoes of Steely Dan fronted by Etta James, that syncopation repeating and another saxophone solo from Dean rounding off the track. And without losing a step, it is then straight in to the slow step of a walking blues, with a change of vocal. Provided by another guest, Big Llou Johnson, who has more than a hint of Solomon Burke about his basso profundo, as he and Coleman trade verses. Undercut by some glorious rippling organ, from band member Benny Kohn, this is met by a searing guitar of fellow member Seth Fleischman, itself then countered by the harp of another guest, Bob Stannard. This is a masterclass in how you play the blues, with, aptly, the song entitled How The Blues Feels.
Ready for some boogie? With a full on lido shuffle, This Life We Lead, kicks off with fluid guitar and sax jousting about the swing of the backing. Coleman grunting and growling her enthusiasm from the front, the amount of roll in the rhythm section as apparent and important as the rock they provide. Brief solos on piano, guitar and the augmented brass section make this a lively romp. We are then back to the country for Birch Tree, possibly the desert, a moody moan with neat muted trumpet from the otherwise bassist, Bill Patriquin. This has possibly the most assured vocal from Coleman, intoning the words like an oracle.
Have we had any funk yet? Not like Hit You Back we haven’t, the Meter’s standard drumming of Rob Tatten a precision tooled metronome. Not the strongest melody here, but that is sort of not the point. A glorious hammond middle eight maintains the interest ahead the jousting brass taking turns to shine. The need to stay on your feet bleeds into the choppy Hit You Back, the life well lived timbre of Colemans’ gravelly vocal embedding into the equivalently sounding bourbon soaked musical backing. These guys are not new to any of this. The promised zydeco tones of Seal OF Fate, now materialise, with rippling piano that wouldn’t disgrace Bill Payne, echoes of Little Feat resounding in this track. Plus, of course, some magisterial accordion, this coming from another guest, David Vittone.
The interestingly entitled, I’m A Grinder follows, and it seems that, again, we are the two nations divided by the same language. Or, at least, I think so, but it the steamy, funky rollercoaster momentum of the song might define otherwise. The trumpet/organ interplay is again perfect, as Coleman, um, grinds. Another change of vocal gives the microphone to keys man Kohn, an altogether lighter feel than his bandleader, that, together with his playing, gives the song a N’Awlins flavour, highlighted by some sassy ensemble backing vocals. Tatten’s percussion is again a joy. Which leaves only room for the epic closer, Take A Long Ride, the sort of song the Temptations were producing as they embraced psychedelia rather than suits. Suitably lysergic guitar comes from famous friend, Joe Louis Walker, searing over the centre of the song, before Coleman swoops back in, moody and portentous. A stunning and anguish ridden way to end this surprising album.
New to my ears, I’ll confess I wasn’t expecting as much as this recording gives. If the adage is that you have to pay your dues, then Coleman and her band surely have, and it knocks the spots off many a younger turk, able also to ripple the complacency of other and more established artists of maturity. The band are tight and more than competent, the production, also by Coleman herself, giving just the right focus to allow all the necessary prompts to be noticed. “We hope to get on the line-up of some larger festivals”, she says, “and do some international touring”. Bring that on, say I. In the meantime, go check out Misty Blues, starting with the song below: