Blue Bella Records
BluesWax Rating: 7 out of 10
Greater Than The Sum
Presumably the title emphasizes that this is the fourth album of the band, an Illinois-based quartet-plus-friends that has been together since 2000, with a few personnel changes. The core — Andrew Duncanson, Josh Stimmel, Chris Breen, and Ed O’Hara — remains stable, but the band has dropped “Blues Band” from its moniker for this CD. Don’t fret, it’s still blues, and quality blues that justifies the lofty reputation that this group has attained in the last few years, including a 2011 nomination for a Blues Music Award as Band of the Year.
Wisely intending to grab our attention early, the CD kicks off with “ ‘Rents House Boogie,” featuring Gerry Hundt on a tasty harmonica solo and fronted by Duncanson, who performs all of the album’s lead vocal duties (and only on this cut sounds remarkably like another contemporary bluesman, Mitch Kashmar). What grabbed me quickly here was the solidity of the rhythm section; maybe it’s because the drums and particularly the bass can be heard well, a pleasure denied us on many CDs. O’Hara’s drumming is propulsive throughout the disc and Breen on bass anchors the foundation with some seriously fine chops.
The ensuing three songs might be classified as a soul shuffle, a swing blues, and another mid-tempo soul shuffle. The latter, “Fast Heart Beat,” has a jaunty walking bass line. Subsequent cuts “You Were My Woman” and “22nd. Street” give exposure to guest musicians Vince Salerno on sax and Travis Reed on organ. In the former, a slow blues, Duncanson’s voice reminds me of Percy Sledge: the man can do soul.
A segue into funk, the instrumental “Arglyles and a Do-Rag,” shows the cohesion of this quartet. “Sitting on the Bank” demonstrates Kilborn Alley’s proficiency in their home-base Chicago blues style, and affords Hundt a virtuoso harmonica solo.
On “Dressed Up Messed Up,” a rock rave-up, Reed abandons the organ to tinkle the 88s expertly.
The album closes with “Going Hard,” a long (10.5 minute) slow blues showcasing Duncanson’s strong, raspy pipes and Josh Stimmel’s guitar prowess.
Stimmel, who almost exclusively prefers single note solos and fills rather than chords, is fine throughout the rest of the album, but ironically seems lacking only on this final cut, where his solo, an extended 3.5-minute excursion, fails to build tension, feints several times at ending, and finally just stops without a sense of resolution.
Kilborn Alley’s musicians penned all the songs on Four, and their skill as well as versatility is apparent. With the exception of “Going Hard,” the band exhibits impressive ensemble playing as opposed to showy virtuosity; we’re hearing inspired musical interplay, not a succession of gaudy, smug solos.
Steve Daniels is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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