There are a number of words repeatedly used to describe Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials: house-rocking, raucous, scorching, smoking, sizzling, and “slide-slinging”. None are ill fitted, it’s just that each captures the exuberance and energy of Lil’ Ed’s live performances rather than the profundity of his studio work, or lack thereof. His most recent release with the Blues Imperials, Full Tilt is another collection of foot-tapping songs spanning styles and steeped in the blues, but lacks any distinct flavor or theme other than “fun.”
The album opens with “Hold That Train”, a nice locomotive song, but its blues are nowhere near as precise, its guitar playing as stirring or its vocals as emotive as Buddy Guy’s “Midnight Train”—even after recognizing that Ed is catching and Buddy waiting for their respective trains. Most awkwardly, Lil’ Ed bemoans emails and faxes on “Don’t Call Me” which creates this uncomfortable chasm between the romantic ideal of yesteryear’s blues masters and today’s technology; the two simply don’t vibe. “Check my Baby’s Oil” is the obligatory allegorical car equals woman song and comes off as contrived while just sounding flat.
Highlights (there are several) include the relaxed “Life Got in the Way”—which breathes with a classic West Side Chicago sound: treble-y, distorted, galvanizing guitar—and “First I Look at the Purse”, which rings of SRV’s “Willie the Wimp”. Dissociating Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials from their thrilling live shows is impossible, so it’s comforting (if not selfish) that Full Tilt doesn’t stand on its own.