THE DIG 3 The Dig 3 (independent) *****
Old school blues, pure and simple; that’s the debut album from The Dig 3. The group is Andrew Duncanson, Ronnie Shellist and one-man-band Gerry Hundt. Walking the tightrope between urgency and ease, The Dig 3 is winsome and charming Chicago blues.
With so many hotrod guitar players playing endless noodling solos (much of which I enjoy), The Dig 3 is old school blues that’s all about the groove. Rather than wailing tired muscle bound blues clichés, these guys go deep by playing it simple and direct. Duncanson on vocals and guitar captures that south side attitude perfectly. Shellist keeps time as a one man rhythm section, reminding me at times of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman in The Stones’ early days. No wanky guitar solos here, the musical heavy lifting in that regard comes from harp master and teacher Ronnie Shellist, who weaves in and out of the propulsive riffs and rhythms with casual precision, almost like a second vocalist. Comparing him to Bob Corritore, Harpdog Brown and even Sonny Boy Williamson is not unjustified.
The men that call themselves The Dig 3 weren’t even born when this particular style of blues rolled around, perhaps they caught the bug from their dads’ record collections. However they came across it they understand it fully; this is killer old school blues with originality, taste, subtlety and emotion. Besides that, it sounds like they’re having a grand old time… to be truthful, I’m getting a bit of a contact high just from listening to it. Putting The Dig 3 on is a trip in the best sense in that it takes you back to a time and place, possibly somewhere in the sixties and brings it alive once again. If you’re too young to remember it or were never there, these songs make you wish that you had been.
The Dig 3 play lowdown, dirty blues with a serious sense of fun, respecting the musical form while enjoying it immensely. It’s been compared to Big John Wrencher’s Chicago blues classic Maxwell Street Blues from 1969, and if that reference rings a bell for you then put this review on hold while you zip over to Bandcamp and get your hands on The Dig 3- you can thank me later.
HOT TRACKS: Rock The Boat, You’re The One, Tell Me The Place
BRACE YOURSELF – LIVE Too Slim & The Taildraggers (VizzTone) **** ½
There are lots of bands out there that attempt to combine the blues and rock ‘n’ roll, but few do it as successfully as Too Slim & The Taildraggers. Brace Yourself, recorded live at Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee, shows off the band’s power and versatility and wide range of influences. To put it more succinctly, this is blues/rock magic.
In a spotlight set I did on my blues radio show Hellhounds On My Trail last month, I used a clip of the late Dusty Hill (ZZ Top) explaining how playing in a trio gives you nowhere to hide and besides, “it’s way more fun” and I hear that same spirit with Too Slim & The Taildraggers. There is boatloads of blues in what they do, but like ZZ Top they rock their asses off. On Brace Yourself songs like Mississippi Moon and Devil In A Doublewide combine classic rock, the blues and Americana while Twisted Rail and Blood Moon have a Robin Trower/ Jimi Hendrix feel. Want the ZZ Top vibe? Give When Whiskey Was My Friend a listen.
Whereas The Dig 3’s stripped down approach works spectacularly well for them, Too Slim & The Taildraggers leans mightily on Tim “Too Slim” Langford’s blues soaked blues guitar. Bassist Zach Kasik and drummer Jeff “Shakey” Fowlkes keep it lowdown and mean. The bio on their website describes their sound as “straight whiskey blues with a southern rock beer chaser” and that captures them perfectly. I can’t see any mention of an outside producer so I have to assume it was Tim Langford, whom I must congratulate for a job spectacularly well done. The sound is thick and juicy, soaked in barbeque sauce; delicious, and leaving you wanting more. Most of the rock & roll that gets me where I live is blues based, so when Tim opens up and lets ‘er rip I’m in heaven.
According to the website Too Slim & The Taildraggers have 13 albums but I only came across them with 2018’s High Desert Heat so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Like all the best live albums Brace Yourself benefits greatly from the band and audience being totally in sync with each other. This is a great album from every possible angle save one; they didn’t bring Broken White Line to the party. Oh well… I love this band and I love the new record.
HOT TRACKS: Mississippi Moon, Devil In A Doublewide, When Whiskey Was My Friend
THROUGH WITH COOL Al Basile (Sweetspot/ City Hall Records) ****
This former Roomful Of Blues cornetist is back with his 19th (!) and it’s a swingin’ slice of horn powered blues. Al’s singing voice is in fine form after a couple of years of vocal difficulties that have been diagnosed and treated. Through With Cool is deceptive item title; maybe Basile doesn’t feel the need to impress others, but this is definitely a cool record.
“Through With Cool is the most completely realized of my 19 albums” Al says, “(this) is the closest to what I heard in my head when I first conceived of the songs.” Basile is backed by his outstanding-as-usual band of New England players; Bruce Bears on keys, Brad Hallen on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums, Doug James on tenor sax and Jeff Chanonhouse on trumpet. Add to that the guitar work of the legendary Kid Andersen and you have the essential ingredients for one hell of a record. “I spent many hours practicing my horn during Covid” Al notes, “which has resulted in more control over my cornet sound and lots of fresh ideas. Of course in the end it’s really about the songs (and) I’m blessed to have great collaborators who bring out the life in my writing and back me up like champs.”
Through With Cool has a smooth, relaxed vibe. Produced by Basile and recorded by Jack Gauthier at Lake West Studios in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, Al says it’s his best sounding record. While Al’s voice and cornet playing are at the center of these songs I’m really enjoying Kid Andersen’s work too. I’ve heard him play guitar on his own stuff as well as with other artists, but his style fits Basile like a glove. “His versatility and taste show his nomination as best guitarist at this year’s BMA’s (Blues Music Awards) was apt, and I turned him loose on a few extra-long solos that are spectacular” Al says of Andersen. If you’re a fan of tasty, in-the-pocket guitar, you’ll find a lot to like here.
Al Basile has quite a musical history, coming from being the first trumpet player for Roomful Of Blues in the mid-70’s to being a co-writer and collaborator with Duke Robillaird since the 80’s to a productive and lengthy solo career… and that’s not to mention his parallel careers as a poet and playwright. He’s written hundreds of songs, some covered by people like Ruth Brown and Johnny Rawls. In short, he’s put in the miles and paid his dues. Through With Cool is the next step in a continuing journey, so stop and open yourself to its decidedly cool charms.
HOT TRACKS: Keep On Living, Two Legged Mule, Through With Cool
DONE COME TOO FAR Shemekia Copeland (Alligator) *****+
When you talk about the future of the blues, Shemekia Copeland’s name always comes up. Done Come Too Far is honest, fearless yet not without a sense of humor, powered by that passionate and amazing voice. This is an album that is, in turns, bold, funny and timely, but most of all incredibly moving.
“This album was made by all sides of me” Shemekia says, “happy, sad, silly, irate- they’re all a part of who I am and who we all are. I’m not political. I’m just talking about what’s happening in this country.” The album continues her story, through the eyes of the young American black woman that she is, starting with 2018’s America’s Child and continuing through 2020’s Grammy nominated Uncivil War featuring the unforgettable Clotilda’s On Fire. The new album, produced by Will Kimbrough (who also produced her last 2 discs) is Ms. Copeland at her charismatic, driven, confrontational best.
Done Come Too Far, on one hand, delves into American civil rights with songs like the title track and Too Far To Be Gone, plus The Talk; the brutally honest reality of a Black mother talking with her son about surviving an encounter with the police. At the other end of the spectrum is Fried Catfish And Bibles and the country rave-up Fell In Love With A Honky which, weirdly, reminds me of Hot Dog from Led Zeppelin’s In through The Out Door. When she’s singing heavy songs like The Dolls Are Sleeping which follows Honky, some levity is essential or things would just get too damn dark. But that’s just life sometimes, isn’t it?
Shememkia strikes a difficult balance, as mentioned above, on Done Come Too Far and it’s an important evolution in her music and the blues in general. “Once my son was born I became even more committed to making the world a better place” she says. “On America’s Child, Uncivil War and now Done Come Too Far, I’ve been trying to put ‘united’ back into ‘United States’. Friends, family and home; these (are) things we all value.” Sonically and lyrically Done Come Too Far is one of the best albums you’re going to hear this year, blues or otherwise. It’s deep and it deals with some hard truths, but it doesn’t forget to show you a good time too.
HOT TRACKS: Too Far To Be Gone, The Dolls Are Sleeping, Nobody But You