Blues Arizona

A cocktail review of recent state releases

Howard has logged 25 years in the blues biz during which he played with some greats, including John Lee Hooker and Albert Collins. And, judging by this recording, he's a sophisticated professional who knows how to create a clean, layered sound. For my money, though, Howard should have added more growl and grit to the mix--a little straight whiskey to compliment the Southern comfort.--Matt Golosinski

Big Nick and the Gila Monsters
Out From Under the Rock
(Monster-Tone)
Chuck Hall Band
Blues Dawgs
(Velveeta)

I don't get it. Here we have two Phoenix-area blues bands with 27 songs on two albums--an hour and 45 minutes of material, give or take a few seconds. Covers? We got covers: songs by Willie Dixon, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, even Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, not to mention Jimmy Thackery, Freddie King and, that grand old touchstone, Robert Johnson. We've got a quintet and a trio--two drummers, two bassists, three vocalists, two guitarists, a harp player and a guy with a Hammond organ. And we've got blues out the wazoo.

What we don't have is anything resembling a spark. I listened to Out From Under the Rock and Blues Dawgs over and over, and all that happened was my little shack started to feel like a bar. Me and my dog did a shot. You gotta draw a line somewhere.

Don't get me wrong, Big Nick Riviera's got a fine voice and his boys know all the notes to all the songs they cover; it's just that they all sound the same. Chuck Hall's a kick-ass guitar player, with a real sweet tone sometimes; for $5 at the door, I wouldn't have any qualms. I know a band in hand is worth 20 in the bins.

But when I pry one of those silver discs out of its jewel box and punch the forward arrow, that's when you're up against everyone that ever was and will be. That's when the dead get up and walk. Hell, I could be listening to my Guitar Slim and Earl Hooker recordings, and you gotta go a long way to make me forget that.

I've seen beloved artists play live when they couldn't make a dancing fool move, and I've tapped my foot to straight-out trash, as long as it had a beat, so I have a feeling I'd be content in a bar with Chuck Hall and his band onstage. And I've got nothing against Big Nick; he seems like a nice guy. Hey, I know these guys have wives and girlfriends and fans. More power to 'em. I love a party.

But not at home. Not in my car. Not on my CD player, and not straight. No way.--Robert Meyerowitz

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