|Fun On Saturday Night, The Blasters (by Memphis Mike)
Rip Cat Records
First off, The Blasters never went away. Like many bands, their stay on the major label scene was brief but as this disc shows, it doesn't take a major label to make a great record! In fact, with the state of current music, major labels RARELY make good records, let alone great ones anymore. But I'm not telling YOU anything you don't already know.
When Dave Alvin left the band in the mid 80s, the band went under the radar for a while. Those of us not living on the west coast only got to see them on rare occasions. In the past 10 years or so, the band has been more visible thanks to more frequent touring, a reunion tour of the original line up, the reissues of their 1st Rolling Rock album on Hightone, a best of CD (The Blasters Collection), the 2 disc set (Testament) of their entire Slash/Warner output, a live DVD (Going Home) and CD (Troublebound) and in 2004, their 1st CD of new material since 1986's "Hardline". All of this said, the band has never stopped.
Here it is, 2012, and we have another brand new CD of all new studio material. Whereas the early Blasters output was based more on guitarist Dave Alvin's stellar songwriting, this latest release is more Phil-centric. Phil not only produced the CD (along with Scott Abeyta), but he also created the artwork and wrote/co-wrote 2 of the 12 tracks.
OK, as this is a CD review, what about the songs?
The disc starts out with Tiny Bradshaw's "Well Oh Well". Fans of the band will recognize this from their more recent live sets. This song is ideal to start the CD as it pumps along in classic R&B/early rock and roll style. From there a duet between Phil Alvin and his old friend Exene Cervenka (of the band X) on the Johnny Cash/June Carter classic, "Jackson". Next up is a treat for fans of vocal group/doo wop styles and fans of well-written lyrics. Phil Alvin shows on "Breath Of My Love" that songwriting of the highest caliber is not only the domain of his brother Dave. When I heard the guys play this song live in 2011, I spent hours looking online for it, assuming it was some long lost gem from the 50s. On the same tour, Phil told me he likes "crazy" gals...and these lyrics about a domestic incident between a knife-wielding wife and her long suffering husband proves it!
Musically, The Blasters are at peak performance on this entire disc. Original drummer Bill Bateman is back and he, along with bassist John Bazz are very possibly the strongest rhythm section around. Guitarist Keith Wyatt will leave the jaws of pickers everywhere dropping and hanging! And Phil's voice, while seasoned with years of menthol cigarettes and the occasional scotch or tequila, is still as amazing as ever. Having learned at the first-hand tutelage of greats like Big Joe Turner, Phil Alvin may be the greatest blues shouter alive, yet he can croon with the best of them.
"Fun On Saturday Night", the title track, returns to the bluesy/early rock and roll style that The Blasters do better than anyone else. Things slow down to a sweet bluesy groove on "No More Nights By Myself" before firing back up with the very guitar heavy "Love Me With A Feeling". Again, you guitar pickers out there are going to love this. Wyatt's picking on this track reminds me a bit of Mickey Baker.
Phil Alvin, aside from being a great guitarist and singer, is also one of the best harp players around and his playing on "I Don't Wantcha" will have you thinking it was recorded in Chicago in the late 40s early 50s. Phil's harp playing is gorgeously dirty on this!
It's often said that most bands should never try to cover a James Brown song, for fear of looking/sounding stupid. The Blasters prove this theory wrong. It takes balls to cover James Brown, let alone his classic "Please Please Please" but the boys from Downey, CA do it justice and then some! Singers beware...you won't be able to cover this...and if you choose to, you won't sound this good, so don't bother. Just sit back and dig the masters at work here!
The Blasters whip out another obscure blues gem, "Rockin' My Blues Away" and if this doesn't get you jumpin', jivin', swingin' and shakin', you might want to check your pulse! Starting off with some great licks by guitarist Wyatt and a swingin' rhythm courtesy of Bazz & Bateman, Phil Alvin has the perfect backing to let loose like no one since the late Joe Turner. The only cat around who might be able to compare would be Barrence Whitfield...and he ain't doing anything this cool!
The boys get downright swampy with "Penny"; a collaboration written by all four members. I can hear Sleepy LaBeef doing this. It's groove heavy, dark and downright dirty! I'm not sure who Penny is, but she probably shouldn't be doing the things she do!
To end the CD, The Blasters take you in two different directions. Both are so cool, you'll be torn to bits...and you'll ask for more! With "The Yodeling Mountaineer", Phil shows his yodeling skills over a good-time country romp. I can see the country bands in the UK covering this...complete with their cowboy outfits. Ending the disc...well, I first heard the guys play this a number of years ago. I saw them in Columbus, OH and Phil had been enjoying some cactus juice and he tore into a Spanish version of "Marie Marie". He and the boys have taken it one step further, renaming the song "Maria, Maria" and playing it like full-blown Mexican norteño! Kid Ramos guests on bajo sexto and you'll think you're south of the border listening to this! Shakin' Stevens fans...this just might blow your minds!
The Blasters have given the world yet another great collection of bluesy rockin' songs. This is one band that just gets better and better with time...and they were already the best in the world to start with! So many bands would just rest on their laurels and play the "Hey! Maybe you remember this one..." circuit. Not The Blasters. I've been listening to these cats for over 30 years and I have yet to be disappointed by anything they've done. Live, their shows will raise the roof off any joint, anywhere, any time. This latest disc shows that they can still write and play with the best...and do it better.
Just recently, we almost lost Blasters singer Phil Alvin. While on tour in Europe, Phil was having difficulty breathing during a show in Valencia, Spain. After the show, he was hospitalized and had to have an emergency tracheotomy. He flatlined twice. After two weeks of care in the ICU at Hospital Universitari i Politècnic La Fe de Valencia, Phil was deemed healthy enough to return home. Lucky for him (and his legions of fans world-wide), Phil's vocal cords were NOT harmed! I'm sure Phil would like to publicly thank his doctors Mariella Anaya, Abel Gutman, and Noelia Munoz for their excellent care and treatment. I would like to thank them, as well as the full hospital staff, and Phil's many friends, fans and family for all of their prayers and outpouring of concern for Phil and The Blasters during this scary time. Phil is back home, recuperating, and back to his usual self.
Now go get yourself a copy of this CD! It's a great CD... and the money earned can help my fellow American, Phil, pay his medical expenses! Trust me, if you love Rock & Roll, you're gonna LOVE this record!
MORE ABOUT THE BLASTERS -->> CLICK HERE!
Reviewed by Memphis Mike, 2012