Can an old dog be taught new tricks? When it comes to the blues, the answer has been proven affirmative time and time again. Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones reworked the blues masters to forge new frontiers in rock ‘n’ roll in the ’60s, and artists who have cut their teeth on the blues have been doing it ever since. The Tomas Doncker Band out of New York City has joined the blues parade with a Howlin’ Wolf tribute album that crackles with fresh mojo while maintaining the authentic vibe of the originals that inspired the project in the first place.
“We wanted to tell that ‘Same Ol’ Story’ one mo’ time… Our way! We felt the time was right,” says Doncker about the release. Doncker has worked as a producer and songwriter with the likes of Bootsy Collins, Yoko Ono, the Itals, Ivan Neville and Bonnie Raitt. He’s got cred and it can be heard in the gritty “hardcore” vibe that he and his band generate while working out on these blues classics. Doncker’s hot guitar tone and soul-searing voice work together to generate some of the best blues of 2014. The album is reminiscent of the 100 Years of Robert Johnson LP that the Big Head Blues Club toured behind in 2011, putting a fresh 21st century stamp on timeless classics.
You can hear the authenticity from the first track where Doncker tears it up over a tight groove on “Evil”. He cranks up the energy on “Spoonful”, a stand-out track thanks to a charged arrangement that conjures Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”. There are also more subtle tracks like “Killing Floor”, where the slow simmering arrangement is the opposite of Hendrix’s turbo-charged rendition. But Doncker hits all the right notes on this deep cut, as well as on a similar arrangement of “Moanin’ at Midnight” that feels like it could fit right in on the soundtrack from Risky Business. Howlin’ Wolf played some mean harmonica too and the band employs David Barnes to lay down some elite level harp work throughout the album. Barnes shines on “Back Door Man” and “I Ain’t Superstitious”, elevating the tracks with harmonica that goes deep into the blues well.
The x-factor materializes on “Smokestack Lightning” as Doncker’s earthy vocals coalesce with a rumbling bass line and harmonized harmonica on a track that burns with a blues power greater than the sum of the parts. Doncker delivers one of the best “wooohooo” lines the song has ever seen, as well as a spoken word rap about the blues on a great bridge section that also features some tasty electric piano from keyboardist Nick Rolfe. A dub style remix of the title track caps the album with a psychedelic outro perfect for a late night toke sesh. A multimedia performance concert is in the works and it should be a keeper if the album is any indication.