Tom Rigney and Flambeau
Back Streets: A Blues Collection
BluesWax Rating: 8 out of 10
More Than Just Blues Fiddle
In its modern embodiment, the premier instruments in blues are the guitar (of course), bass, and drums, with piano and saxophone close behind. Violin, however, has been a valued addition to blues music ever since the advent of blues in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. In fact, fiddlers were a staple of blues and “American music” bands until World War II, as exemplified by Sid Hemphill, the Mississippi Sheiks, and the Beale Street Sheiks. Did you know that guitar greats Lonnie Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy were also adept at fiddle?
In the last half of the 20th Century, fiddle virtuosity was demonstrated by David Lindley in the rock and folk genres, and Don “Sugarcane” Harris in rock and jazz.
In the blues world, its prime exemplars — there weren’t many — were Papa John Creach, of Hot Tuna fame, and master multi-instrumentalist Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
Blues fiddle isn’t about to disappear, though. In Otis Taylor‘s current band, Anne Harris saws those strings with gusto, and in the San Francisco Bay Area Tom Rigney and his band Flambeau have been scorching stages for years. Back Streets: A Blues Collection, their latest album, is a delightful addition to their oeuvre. Its twelve tracks, including seven originals composed by Rigney, range from the pedal-pumping to the poignant.
The CD kicks off with a Creach tune, “Tired of Cryin’,” introduced by a brief violin lead which segues into one of the many fine guitar solos provided by Danny Caron. It’s followed by “Over the Edge,” a barnburner instrumental in which Rigney and Caron trade lead forays and pianist Caroline Dahl provides the tasty clinching solo. Next our lachrymal susceptibility is tested with “Insomnia,” a gorgeous five-and-a-half minute display of lyrical pathos.
The rest of the album maintains this high quality, alternating from slow blues and mid-tempo shuffles to red-hot gallops. Sam Cooke‘s “Bring It on Home to Me” and Kokomo Arnold‘s classic “Milk Cow Blues” are given laudable treatments. Rigney handles the vocals with aplomb; although his range and power are limited, his singing is more appropriate to this style of blues than would be the moans and roars of the quintessential Delta or Chicago bluesman. Steve Parks on bass and Brent Rampone on drums provide a solid foundation while eschewing the spotlight. Dahl’s contributions are consistently fine, and Caron, formerly arranger and guitarist for the late, great Charles Brown, is terrific.
For me the highlight of the album is Rigney’s “New World,” a rollicking romp with dazzling solos and an irresistible rhythm. Rigney, Caron, and the rhythm section are locked in. Pardon me…I’m going to get my dancing shoes!
Steve Daniels is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
Tom Rigney and Flambeau
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