When the cover of an album shows you the face of a man concentrating on blowing his own harmonica, you begin to realize what you are about to encounter or at least hopefully encounter. You want that guy to blow the hell out of that mouth organ for the entire album, mixing it with some beefy blues licks on guitar and an airtight rhythm section that can turn on a dime if needed. Matthew Skoller wants to you feel these kinds of blues, but when you start the album out, you’re left with a mellow and less than impressive bit of radio-friendly blues that includes someone asking for a dime. The intensity is usurped by a mid-tempo tune that isn’t as rowdy or jaw-dropping as you might want. In fact, Skoller relies on his vocals to get the point home instead of his harmonica, something that would often be the exception for James Cotton. The guitarists also steal whatever thunder Skoller might use during the bridge, again with no harmonica here. I want a harmonica, dammit! And he finally delivers on the homestretch, but for only a moment.
Skoller’s influences are definitely blues legends like Buddy Guy and Little Walter, and this is exemplified on the old-school blues of “Ghosts in Your Closet”, a tune that Skoller leads from start to finish. “You got ghosts in your closet woman / Shuttin’ the door just locks ‘em in”, he sings as the band round out the infectious groove. Skoller spent eight years doing a weekly show at the House of Blues in Chicago and also has been a regular opener for Guy at Guy’s own club. Just as pleasing is the Clapton-ish approach to “Handful of People”, slow, deliberate and at times quite sultry. Skoller nails the tune brilliantly, acting like a lead guitar with his harmonica during the raucous bridge. “This whole god damn world is on fire”, he sings as the track falls in line with a Hendrix-like jam. The up-tempo and fine title track brings to mind a head-bobbing Robert Cray churning out some great blues riffs. The lone problem could be that it doesn’t realize its complete potential, instead fading out after a pleasing four minutes.
These Kind of Blues!
(Tongue 'N Groove)
US: 7 Jun 2005
UK: Available as import
When he slows things down, he tends to be just as effective, particularly during the crawling “Let the World Come to You”, which brings to mind a possible distant cousin in AC/DC’s “Walk On”, although this one has some soulful, gospel-like harmonies. “Stolen Thunder” changes gears with a percussion-driven tune that also has some nifty keyboard work from Sidney James Wingfield on Hammond organ. This number takes no time getting off the ground, with everything heading the right direction from the first line onward. The crowning achievement on the record has to be the lean and rather mean “Down at Your Buryin’”, which features a guy shedding little sympathy for his woman’s demise. Pianist Johnny Iguana does a fine job here but there are other elements at work here, including a harp and something called the shakuhachi. But the key has to be the guitar of Larry Skoller, which fills the bridge and closing portions to near perfection. The low point is “Julia”, an ordinary tune that would be better suited for the Dave Matthews Band if they ever tried their hand at crafting the blues.
The record rounds out with a remix of “Handful of People” that is really not needed. Skoller can do enough with his harmonica that this added bonus track dampens the overall effort a bit. Skoller is good at what he does, and this album is indicative of that—blues, blues, and some more blues.
// Notes from the Road
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