Monday, August 9, 2010

H-Town Jukes

H-Town Jukes
Long Time Comin'
80 Proof Records

I been giving the H-Town Juke's Long Time Comin' a spin around the block recently trying to get my arms around it enough to blog about it here. The Jukes were mentioned in my last post, about enjoying their set as the opening blues band for the harp extravaganza. They put down some kind of solid, toneful blues that Saturday and they do so, also, on this debut recording.

The disc opens up with what I think is the strength of the band, their instrumental talent. Even though the tune plays off a generic blues shuffle, Steve Gilbert (guitar) and Larry Bernal (harmonica) provide ample proof right off the bat that they know how the blues goes down. Bernal establishes a less is more approach while coaxing the fat from his reeds and he basically stays within that structure throughout the eleven song program. He has no intention of playing 'lick monkey' with his diatonic. Same can be said for Gilbert, as his first solo demonstrates--he gets in, says what's needed and gets out and keeps it tasty.

Bernal wears his chief blues harp influence on his sleeve, and some of his lick choices, tonality and song selection point directly towards his mentor, Houston blues harp maestro, Sonny Boy Terry. Only those of us that know Terry's work well would be able to pick up on where Bernal leans into his instructor's tonal territory as he demonstrates that he's learn his lessons well. He even covers some of the same ground of his former instructor by doing up Juke Boy Bonner's Time To Say Goodbye, Johnny 'Clyde' Copeland's Texas Party and Silas Hogan's deep and dirty Rats and Roaches. The Jukes establish the greasy vibe needed for these tunes with Bernal and Gilbert swapping some fine solos. The only song reall that suffers by comparison would be Rats and Roaches, because anyone who picks up this disc likely will have heard Sonny Boy Terry's definitive version of this gutbucket blues. Bernal and Gilbert do get some of their bestest, bluesiest, bent up tones and licks going on through it though. They do the same with Bonner's Time To Say Goodbye. Bernal has a pleasant singing voice, devoid of affectation, which works well with this slow stuff, but could he needs to employ a little more dynamics with the uptempo stuff like the aformentioned Texas Party.

These guys seem to really be in their element on the original tunes sprinkled among the covers. I like the rockabilly vibe that upright bass dude Kirk Schaefer and drummer Carl Owens get driving on the Gilbert penned Ain't Nobody Holdin'. The uptempo stuff certainly works best with Gilbert's vocal stylings, and his guitar slinging just sounds fun. Bernal bounces some good rhythm notes and fills around what Gilbert puts down. He creates some nice solo runs, but it seems that the amp distortion may be biting the end of some the notes off on this tune. But hey, I like distorted harp stuff.

Another Gilbert tune, My My My, kicks off and shows off Bernal's acoustic tone and licks,which are nice. Gilbert rips it up Hollywood Fats style and that H-Town rhythm section really gets the groove on. They do the same on Good Time Charlie--Gilbert's playing is lights out, channeling a bit of Chuck Berry. Bernal gets a little more rapid fire lickedy as they get he cylinders firing.

I love the lyrics that Gilbert strung together for Big Big Mouth. One of those tales that you'd associate with someone like Rick Estrin. "You got a big, big mouth/and all your brains is down south" says a mouthful, ya think? Bernal stretches into something closer to his own original ideas with his playing on this 'un. Now, that's what'll move the H-Town Jukes to the next level--put some distance between them and those who pointed the way by doing their own thing and making the covers their own.

Long Time Comin' represents a mighty respectable first release from the H-Town Jukes, but it doesn't quite equal the live show that I witnessed a couple of weekends ago. These guys have a tough blues band that cooks on stage and sometimes it hard to replicate all parts of that in the studio, but that's the way it is most of the time. Sometimes vice versa, but I always prefer the up close and personal live stuff. That said, this cd certainly does Houston blues proud.

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