Rusty Bladen Celebrates Debut Album

By Rob Nichols

An album release party thrown by Rusty Bladen turned into a rock and roll show that none in the sold-out house will soon forget.

Bladen celebrated the release of his debut CD Are You Happy Now?By holding a concert at the Pines Evergreen Showroom in Seymour, Indiana, on April 10 and proved that he's not just walking down the road to musical success; he's running and breathing hard.

And at the end of the night, so was every last person who helped sell out the 450-seat hall.

Bladen's CD and cassette features eight songs that can be described as "Heartland rock and roll." He's made his living the past two years performing in concert solo across Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

At the release party, it was a full-blown band that wowed the crowd with an 18-song, 85-minute set that featured every song on the album and some killer covers.

The seven-piece band crashed into John Prine's Picture Show" to open the night and wasted no time jumping into the new CD with "Let Me Back In" and "Too Much to Lose." Both songs showed off a talented and handsomely musically ragged band that had the audience jamming the front of the stage and dance floor. Bladen's harmonica and Rob Johnson's guitar work were both highlights of the first few songs as the band found its chops.

An extended "Spirit in the Sky" gave Louisville saxophonist Rick DeBow a chance to jam, while a better cover of "Never Been to Spain" may have not been played in a long time.

The show really took off with two more of Bladen's originals. "Just for a While" and "Don't Blame It On Me" showed keyboardist Bill Baker's vocal harmonies. Baker most recently was a member of Larry Crane's band before joining Rusty.

Holding everything together all night was Bladen's stage presence, The guy has an aura about him when he's on stage. He's not the tallest musician in the world, or even in the band, as Johnson is easily more than six feet tall. But you can' t help but be transfixed on him as he spins and bobs and leans into the crowd while still playing acoustic guitar with rock and roll abandon. He never put his guitar down all night to strike the MTV pose.

Instead, he strummed and beat his Takamine acoustic the whole time. Jumping from one musician to the next, he made sure each performer took a turn at soloing. And it was obvious the band was having fun.

Just like the crowd, "Drift Away" and a great version of the Beatles' "Revolution" were followed by the jungle beats of drummer Berry Burleson, who pounded the skins while Bladen introduced the band. They then segued into a strikingly original version of Paul Simon's "Me and Julio."

Bladen's bluesy "Real Gone Gal" and a fun version "The Wanderer" with DeBow's sax led into the album's title cut, but not before Bladen blew the heck out of his "Harmonica Footstomp," turning a 28-second opening album cut into a more-than-one-minute harmonica jam, telling the crowd before he started that he's "always looking for new band members. All you have to do is slap your hands and stomp those feet."

That they did.

Brought back for an encore, Rusty came on stage alone for a very pretty "Cat's in the Cradle" before bringing the band back for the classic Ten Years After tune "I'd Love to Change the World."

After another round of goodnight's from the band, the crowd remembered how to clap and stomp enough to get another encore out of the Bladen band. "Rockin' Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie flu," the extremely touching original "Share My Dream" and an all-out jam session version of "Jailhouse Rock" ended the music for the evening.

The southern Indiana band Young Country opened for Rusty, with a 45-minute set of originals and covers. The band appeared on The Nashville Network's "Be A Star" program the beginning of April and has begun stretching the boundaries of where they play. They were much twangier than Bladen, yet rocked the crowd very well. Among the originals that stood out was a song called "Memories Out of the Blue." Young Country is a band that fits right into what is hot about country right now. An excellent young group.

Acoustical duo Kelley and Eddie performed a half-hour set of mostly cover songs. They did slide in a couple of originals, as well as some Janis Joplin, Led Zep and even a version of Larry Crane's "Independence Day." They work smoothly together; see them if you get a chance.

Next up for Bladen is picking up radio airplay for his music and he is embarking on an "Indiana Airwaves Tour" on May 3. He is touring radio stations, mostly in Indiana and performing live in the studio.

Look for him in your town, on a solo tour and check him out. It sure was an evening of sweaty fun on April 10. He made sure of that.

Oh and just so you don't think some success will go to the guy's head, he stayed more than an hour after the show signing autographs, CDs and cassettes.

What a night. And probably only the beginning of a long run.