I went out on the proverbial limb last month when I proclaimed that this release by Rich DelGrosso and Jonn Del Toro Richardson oughta be a great one. Now that I have the CD in hand, I can back that up with...this is a great set of fine blues. Time Slips OnBy represents exactly what I love about the blues; tasteful instrumentation, heartfelt lyrics and solid vocals. It must be the 'Del' that's a part each of their names that make them such a nice match for each other's vibe. They come at the blues from different directions, like Laurel did with Hardy in comedy, and just like the comedic pair, the blend of their talents makes for a marvelous performance.
They split the songwriting credits pretty evenly on the fourteen cuts offered here, with a couple of collaborations--one of which kicks off Time Slips On By, grooving on an infectious boogie with DelGrosso's mandolin getting the party going. Del Toro Richardson jumps in and helps drive the rhythm with his Silvertone twanging the thang. DelGrosso is a large man and his gruff, low down voice fits him and his Baby Do Wrong perfectly. When he sings, he is the blues. He and Del Toro swap leads back of forth and then in unison (as they do throughout the disc), and then they ride the groove into the Southeast Texas sunset.
The title cut, written by Del Toro R, yanks the mood into a completely opposite direction as the jumping, jiving opener...and it's an epiphany for me to hear just what a fit Del Toro R's vocals are for the soul/blues style. This song reminds me a great deal of the type of stuff that brother's Syl and Jimmy Johnson would get going when they collaborated. The vocals are solid soul, while the guitar licks are stone cold blues. Producer Mark 'Kaz' Kazanoff and his Texas Horns (w/John Mills & Al Gomez) swell up that vintage type of tonal pallette effectively, but it's the sweet vocals that really put the soulful spin on it. What you won't hear in the soul/blues genre is mandolin being picked in and around the flow of such a song, but DelGrosso sure does make it work well; along with a couple of finely picked solos.
I know that I haven't mentioned that this ain't no blues harp album, which is somewhat a departure from the usual here (not always, though). My good buddy, Sonny Boy Terry, does light up DelGrosso's Mandolin Man with fine, fine high end harp work and low end thump on this shufflling tale about Yank Rachell. The lyrics also revolve autobiographically around DelGrosso's explaining why and how such a large man came to play the smallest stringed instrument made. As far as the how, he states that it's all in my touch/ask my baby about that. Sonny Boy also helps put DelGrosso's She's Sweet smack dab into the down-in-the-alley blues with that fatbacked tone of his.
Del Toro R's Katalin epitomizes the blues of the Gulf Coast so well that you can smell the salt in the air while listening to the tune. Also it's helped along by the fact that Katalin hails from Pearland, Texas and Joel Guzman's accordion flavors the gumbo mix. DelGrosso squeezes out some nice slide licks to intro the song along side Del Toro R's chunky rhythmic chords and slips along fine and dandy throughout the cut. Del Toro R's sharp note attacks meshes well with DelGrosso's weaving slide.
Even though the liner notes state that DelGrosso's Shotgun Blues in Yank Rachell inspired, Del Toro R's guitar and The Texas Horns puts the song onto Texas turf. The opening chorus had me imagining Albert Collins pickin' and grinnin' with a couple of saxes and a trumpet driving the tune in a Houston direction. It just has that funky blues groove that the 'Iceman' perfected so well. Del Toro R's doesn't copped Collins here, but being the Houston cat that he is, those stylistic chops just sometimes fly out , but then he'll take off into a differently blues zone from his own lick vocabulary.
Where's Laura is an instrumental that takes a left turn into more of a jazzy territory. I'm not a guitar gear type of guy, but my thought is that Del Toro R is pushing his sound through an octave pedal in order to achieve the watery tone that effectively set the mood. DelGrosso proves that he can make that old 'taterbug' get a jazz groove on and they let Gomez rip a trumpet solo.
If I caught Summertime Is Here on the radio and didn't know better, I definitely would think that David Hildago was singing the song with his Los Lobos compadres. My feelings is that Jonn Del Toro Richardson is touching base with his roots on this one. Again, Guzman's accordion really helps with the setting of the tune, along with Del Grosso's fleet mandolin picking. I could almost see the barbeque smoke drifting through the air as the song eased along.
Then Robert Cray jumps to mind once Del Toro R opens his mouth on The Real Deal and picks his guitar notes out on his fretboard. Did I mention that the man can do the soul blues thing? Yeah, he proves once again that he can sing it and sing it well. DelGrosso stretches out with some fine picking mid-song. You know, I have some of Yank Rachell and Johnny Young's stuff, but Del Grosso has taken the blues mandolin to a different level than those two--I'm way more of a fan of that little thing now.
He really wounds up the 'taterbug' on Good Rockin' Johnny, which I assume is an instrumental honoring Johnny Young. He and Del Toro R banter licks to a fro for a rollicking good time with mighty fine string bending and it sounds like they are jamming on Chicago's southside.
Del Toro R shifts his vocal timbre into blues mode on Baby Please, which impresses the heck out of me. I'd have never pegged the guy singing Time Slips By and Baby Please to be the same person. He may not have the same range as John Nemeth, but he does shed stylistic moods just as well. It's this I-IV-V, twelve bar pattern that hook me on the blues in the first place and these two guys seem to be in their element when they wade off into one and commence to sharing licks. This is fitting finale for Time Slips By and sums up the interplay between two great musicians. So, save some of that Christmas money for one of the best releases of 2011--due out on January 18.
Check 'em out here: http://www.mandolinblues.com/ and http://deltoroblues.wordpress.com/
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Texas y'all.
P.S.--Thought I'd give a shout out to promoter Mark Pucci, who sent me this disc along with fine releases by Joanne Shaw Taylor and Jim Byrnes. I'm really digging on the Byrnes' Everywhere West right now. Did I mention that Jonn Del Toro Richardson is one of my favorite guitarists and has been since his Cactus Moon jams. Well, he is.
As of May 30, 2008, I retired as a high school teacher with 29 years of sharing my knowledge of journalism, English, and world geography with Texas teenagers and eventually some of their kids (including three of my own).
This blog will provide a piece of the answer to the question I've been asked for the millionth time, "Well, what are you going to do now?"
#1 Son, John Bush, designed the title artwork several years ago and it is remarkably appropriate for this blog. Try this as a contact e-mail: rkbush51 at att dot net.